the preliminary matches

“My name is Orochimaru.”

He stared down at the body slumped up against a concrete wall before him, bloody and battered. Long black hair that spilled over his shoulders also obstructed his face, but Sasuke didn’t need to see his face to know who he was.

“I can make you stronger.”

He knelt down in front of his older brother, Itachi, and surveyed the damage that he had wrought upon him during their battle. His only real regret was that he hadn’t kept the man alive long enough to make him feel the pain Sasuke had been enduring since he was eight.

“Strong enough to beat Itachi.”

Something twisted in his chest. He turned, placing a hand on the ground to support him as he sat down properly, before positioning himself comfortably in Itachi’s lap. Sasuke leaned against him, resting his head against his brother’s shoulder, and grabbing Itachi’s wrists so he could fold his arms over his chest, and held them there.

It was how they used to sit and watch the fireworks during the festivals.

“Sasuke…” He stiffened when Itachi’s arms moved, his heart suddenly hammering in his throat. Itachi’s head leaned back and dead eyes gazed up at the cloudy sky above them. There was nothing there to look at. “Aren’t the fireworks nice this year?”

When had things started to fall apart?

Why couldn’t-…?

I just-…

-… him…

What did…?

No, don’t think about this. You’ll regret it.

He lashed out before he knew who he was lashing out at. A cry of pain from an unfamiliar voice was enough to tell him that there were uninvited guests around. He opened his eyes and sat up, surveying the scene. There was only one unfamiliar face that was still standing. His eyes were wide, and Sasuke could see how white his knuckles were around the hilt of a kunai.

Sasuke stood at that point, eying the two that had evidently attempted to kill him in his sleep. The other guy on the team had had his gut slashed wide open, and his internal organs were highly visible around the blood still gushing from the wound. The third teammate, a girl, was still oozing blood from a deep wound to her throat. It looked like it had gone halfway through her neck.

There was blood splattered across his hands and shirt, smeared all over the kunai he was spinning in his hand. He looked back up at the only living remainder of the team. He was holding a kunai to Sakura’s throat. Tears were streaming down her face, her eyes were huge in an unmistakable expression of fear.

“D-Don’t move!” The guy suddenly commanded in the least authoritative voice Sasuke had ever heard. “I’ll kill this girl!”

The guy pressed the blade of the kunai against Sakura’s throat, drawing a slight amount of blood that was obviously supposed to be intended as a threat. Sasuke’s eyes narrowed, his expression shifting into an evidently frightening glare. The guy flinched back, pulling Sakura with him and tightening his grip on his kunai. His hand was shaking.

“You’re pathetic,” Sasuke stated with nothing less than contempt. “You kill her, and I’ll rip your arms off. If you don’t kill her, I’ll still rip your arms off. You forfeited your life the moment you laid a hand on my teammate.”

The guy’s eyes were wide, and Sasuke could see him panicking. He only wished he’d been able to see the guy’s face when he moved suddenly, likely disappearing from sight altogether. As Sasuke came up behind him and before he had noticed, the guy let go of Sakura, shoving her out of his way so he could run for it. Sasuke grabbed his wrists as he was turning to run, kicking his knees out from underneath him, all the while tilting his arms further and further back.

He planted a foot on the guy’s back, between his shoulder blades. There was a sound that seemed extremely far away, sort of like someone yelling, but he ignored it. He kept his leg mostly straight and started to pull, blocking out the guy’s desperate, highly annoying cries. He leaned back as far as he could, pulling harder and harder.

There was a crunch followed by an ear-splitting scream as the guy’s shoulders dislocated. Sasuke didn’t even think of letting up. He only increased his grip and pulled harder. It was just beginning to look as though the guy’s arms were going to come off, when a piercing shriek cut through the air, startling him.

“STOP IT!!

He let up slightly, turning towards the source of the noise. Sakura was staring at him, her face white and her eyes leaking tears. He stared at her, confused by her expression. He was protecting her. Why was she looking at him like that?

She’s so annoying.

Sasuke’s fingers were partially numb, so he barely felt it when he released his grip and let the guy fall forward. He then turned towards Sakura, for a moment wondering what the best way to kill her would be. His hands clenched into fists as he watched her.

Then, out of the bushes came Naruto and Kaisuki, coming to a abrupt halt a couple feet from Sakura. He stared at the three of them. If he killed Sakura, he would have to kill Naruto and Kaisuki as well. That could prove troublesome.

“Sasuke, are you okay?” He could see her lips moving but he couldn’t really understand what Kaisuki was saying. His heart felt like it was beating remarkably hard. His vision refocused several times before he closed his eyes, reaching up with one hand and pressing his thumb and index fingers against his eyelids.

Kill who? He wondered, lowering his hands and blinking. He felt off, in much the same way he had when he’d killed that chuunin from Kirigakure. His limbs felt far away, his head was buzzing, and his mouth was dry. He swallowed to wet his throat, lifting his gaze from where it had settled on the ground.

Kaisuki was looking at him with real concern in her eyes, while Naruto was trying to talk to a very upset Sakura. What was their problem? He’d been protecting Sakura. Couldn’t they see that he was fine, and so was she, thanks to him?

When he spoke, his voice sounded muffled at first, before gaining clarity. “I’m fine.” He replied, staring at them blankly. Kaisuki frowned at him, and he frowned back at her. “Really, I’m fine.”

She didn’t at all look like she believed him. He decided he didn’t care, and diverted his gaze to his hands as he lifted them up. They were splattered with blood again. It still felt like his heart was beating too hard, and he was having some difficulty inhaling. Or at least, it felt like he was having trouble with it. He couldn’t really tell if he was breathing at all.

He wiped his hands on his shirt, looking to where the guy he’d been dealing with had been, but he was gone. Sasuke wondered faintly how that had happened. He wanted to hunt him down and butcher him alive, but he figured the rest of the team might not be up for that. They looked a little shaken, for reasons unknown.

He walked over to them, and then walked right past them, stopping beside the body of the girl whose throat he had slashed. He crouched down beside her, pulling her kunai pouch off her belt and rifling through it. She hadn’t been carrying the scroll. He dropped the pouch unceremoniously next to her and stepped over to the other corpse.

He grabbed the kunai pouch and opened it. As he’d been hoping, the scroll was sitting right on top of everything else, and it was a heaven scroll – the one they needed. They’d gotten the scroll on the first day. This portion of the exams was either a lot easier than he’d been expecting, or they were just incredibly lucky that the weakest possible foes had decided to show up and offer themselves up as sacrifices.

He turned back to the team. Naruto was rubbing Sakura’s back now, and she was still shaking, but it seemed she had stopped crying. Kaisuki was watching him with a scowl on her face. He wondered what he’d done to deserve that.

“They had a heaven scroll.” He stated, attracting Naruto’s attention. “We just need to get to the tower now.”

The blond had started glowering at him as though he’d done some horrible wrong. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and asked, “What the hell is your problem?”

Naruto’s eyes widened a fraction, before a look of fury appeared on his face. It didn’t suit him at all. “What the hell is wrong with you!?” He snarled, “Was any of that necessary?”

Sasuke stared at him for a long, long moment. Then, he looked over at Kaisuki. Finally, his gaze settled on Sakura. His eyes narrowed, “This is the Chuunin Exams.” He said coldly, “It’s kill or be killed. I would’ve thought you’d have gotten that through your thick skull when I nearly got killed by that Orochimaru guy.”

Kaisuki flinched, reaching up a hand to rub at her temple. Naruto was staring at him, dumbfounded. Finally, he said incredulously, “There’s a difference between killing someone and torturing them, you damn psycho!”

He blinked. Torture? He had only been…

Ripping someone’s arms off.

It felt as though his heart was in a vice grip. He didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything at all. Naruto’s expression was shifting into one of bewilderment, or perhaps concern. Maybe both. Sasuke lowered his gaze back to the ground, shaken. He really had no self-control when it came to battle, and when it regarded his opponents and enemies.

His arms and legs had returned to him, and the buzz in his head had been replaced by a low grade headache. His blood pressure seemed to have settled down, as well. It vividly reminded him of his encounter with the chuunin from Kirigakure. That time hadn’t even been the work of whatever Orochimaru had done to him. His moments of brutality were something he alone was responsible for. He swallowed.

He needed to learn to control that.

“We should probably go,” Kaisuki spoke up as Sasuke was shoving his hands into his pockets. “Sasuke, are you alright for travel?”

He looked at her again. “I’m fine,” he said for the third time. He didn’t understand why they worried about him so much. It wasn’t even so much that he was an able person and could handle himself in battle. He didn’t belong with them. He probably didn’t belong anywhere. Being displaced like he’d been had sort of set him up for continued displacement.

The one you should be asking about is Sakura, not me.

Did she forget that we’re not friends again?

His stomach twisted into a knot, and Kaisuki started talking again, this time to Naruto, about where they should go next, and what they should do. Sasuke could barely hear them. He clenched his fists and stared at the ground. He wondered if Naruto and Kaisuki also had the same problem. He wondered if they were always reminding themselves that they were alone, or if they had really found family in each other like they often said.

He wished he could say that he had done the same, but he really was alone. There wasn’t much of anyone suited to be that close to him. Kakashi-sensei came sort of close, but that man pushed people away so firmly, Sasuke had known it was hopeless before he’d even bothered to try. There wasn’t much of anything left for him, except killing Itachi. It was all he could really look forward to. It was his only ambition. He had no idea what he’d do afterward, or who he’d go home to.

With any luck, he thought blackly. I’ll just die.

“Welcome to the preliminary matches of the Chuunin Exams,” the Hokage said with a smile at the few of them that remained. Kaisuki had been expecting more people to make it. The redhead and his team had made it through, three teams from Tanigakure, Kusagakure, and Otogakure respectively, Teams 10 and 8 from Kaisuki’s grade, and Team Gai from the year ahead of her and her peers. That was only twenty-four people altogether, out of the hundred or so that had they had started with.

“My name is Gekko Hayate. This part of the exam is the last part you’ll have to do today. The final matches will be in a month.” A man who had been standing behind the Hokage came forward and started speaking, his voice raspy. “At this point in the exams, anyone who wants to quit can without forfeiting their entire team. Before we begin the matches, does anyone want to opt out?”

There was a pause, but no one spoke up. The man coughed into his hand before nodding in approval. “We have an automated system for choosing who will fight who, so while that’s running, all of you should report to your instructors, up there.” He gestured towards the balcony that came out of the walls around the decently sized fighting arena.

Kaisuki glanced up at the balcony, spotting Kakashi-sensei immediately. He waved at his team, and they followed the other teams through a door, up a set of stairs, and then out another door onto the balcony area. As Team 7 walked around the gated corner and strode up to Kakashi-sensei, Kaisuki saw the redhead heading to the other side of the room, where she could see the only jounin from Sunagakure.

“I see you made it through alive,” Kakashi-sensei commented as they stopped beside him.

Naruto grinned at him, “Ha! Of course we did. We only almost died… once each for me, Sakura, and Sasuke. Kaisuki managed to avoid any form of danger.”

“Well, yea,” Kaisuki said, shrugging. “I had Saeka. She was kind of freaking out when that fucking psycho was trying to kill you guys. She hasn’t actually spoken to me since, though…”

“Kakashi-sensei, you could’ve told us that there were going to be god damn jounin-level people entering these freakin’ exams.” Naruto complained loudly. A couple of people glanced their way, and Kaisuki couldn’t help but note that none of them seemed to be sharing the same sentiments as Naruto. “Seriously, we almost died. Sasuke really almost died.”

Kakashi-sensei raised his eyebrows at them. “I would’ve thought you’d have guessed that it could get that dangerous. Genin doesn’t explicitly mean twelve year-olds.”

Sakura glared at him, “Wow, you couldn’t have let us get a little more prepared for that?”

“Well, obviously I didn’t have to.” Kakashi-sensei replied, smiling through his mask. Kaisuki opened her mouth to retort, when Gekko-san cleared his throat noisily. She looked over at him, as did everyone else.

“The first match is going to be Uchiha Sasuke from Konohagakure against Kurokawa Toru from Tanigakure.” He stated dully. Kaisuki moved out of Sasuke’s way so he could walk past her. He didn’t say a word to any of them on his way to the stairwell. She couldn’t help but feel a bit worried about him. He’d been extremely unwell less than a day ago. He’d been feeling better since he’d woken up (or so he said, though Izumi seemed to agree with his self-assessment), but Kaisuki had a bad feeling.

The two genin arrived in the center of the fighting arena, standing on either side of Gekko-san. Toru was older than Sasuke by probably two or three years, and while he didn’t look particularly threatening, there was something about the absolute confidence in his gaze that Kaisuki didn’t like.

“Begin.” Gekko-san said, disappearing from sight momentarily before reappearing on the balcony beside the Hokage, on the short side of the rectangular fighting arena.

Not even a second after Gekko-san was out of the line of fire, Sasuke hurled a few kunai at his opponent, leaping backwards as he did so. Toru twisted around the kunai and raced directly at Sasuke. He had to be primarily a taijutsu user, then. If his focus was ranged, he would’ve throw himself backwards instead of running right at his opponent.

Sasuke’s Sharingan lit up his normally dark eyes, and he assumed a stance just a few seconds before Toru had reached him. Kaisuki observed carefully as Sasuke blocked and parried each of Toru’s attacks with ease, though she could tell by the look in his eyes that his seemingly superior skill wasn’t about to put him off guard. And it was for good reason, because a couple of minutes into their battle, after Toru was beginning to look as though he were being pushed back, he abruptly increased the speed at which he was attacking. If Sasuke hadn’t had his Sharingan, he probably would’ve been overpowered rather quickly.

Sasuke deflected a fist aimed for his face, and Kaisuki saw his eyes widen suddenly. She could see by the look on his face that he was cursing in his head, but she didn’t know why. Toru had to have some kind of ability that could only be used during close combat. Sasuke had stopped deflecting his opponent’s attacks and was instead only dodging. He wasn’t even attempting to retaliate with any attacks of his own.

It’s probably something that requires physical contact to work,” Izumi spoke up suddenly, and Kaisuki internally hummed in agreement. She had no idea what Sasuke had felt to make him react the way that he had. Toru was picking up the pace again, and Kaisuki could see that her teammate was falling behind, even though she knew he was capable of moving much faster than that.

Does he look like he feels alright to you, Izumi?” Kaisuki asked worriedly, tuning out what she was watching. Sasuke’s movements were becoming much less fluid. Izumi didn’t reply right away, but Kaisuki could figure that the woman was observing alongside her.

After a few moments of silence, the irou-nin spoke. “He’s deteriorating. His cheeks are a little flushed but his overall complexion has gotten rather ashen.” She explained, sounding a bit more concerned than Kaisuki had been. Now that she could hear the worry in the woman’s voice, she felt a lot more worried. “He’s running a fever and he’s in pain. I have a feeling that mark on his neck has something to do with it.

Kaisuki swallowed. “Should I tell Kakashi-sensei?

You should tell him.” Izumi replied promptly. She blinked herself back into the present. She came back just in time to see Toru grab Sasuke’s wrist in an iron grip and wrench him forward. The Uchiha nearly lost his balance, and she heard Izumi mutter something about his eyes not dilating properly. She didn’t quite know what that meant, so she simply ignored it, keeping her attention on the fight.

Sasuke, who had barely managed to catch himself just a moment before falling, suddenly dropped to one knee as he was trying to pry his opponent’s hand off his arm. Toru’s hand shot out and grabbed Sasuke by his bangs, yanking his head forward and a little to the side. By doing so, he offset Sasuke’s balance on his knees, putting him at an angle that would take away any form of leverage the Uchiha could’ve gotten.

Then, Kaisuki felt it. She heard Naruto let out a gasp beside her, and her heart dropped into her stomach. Sasuke’s vast amount of chakra was being drained at a frightening rate. Within about ten seconds, more than three-fourths of it was gone, and her teammate’s grips on Toru’s wrists slackened. She could see his eyes rolling back into his head, and just a moment before he likely would’ve died, the genin from Tanigakure let him go. He hit the ground without even trying to stop himself, and that was enough to tell Kaisuki that he was unconscious.

The man planted his hands on his hips, threw back his head, and laughed. “Ha! That was so easy!”

He turned away from the Uchiha, turning his gaze on Gekko-san. “That’s it, right? I win?”

There was a pause as Gekko-san evidently assessed whether or not it was possible for Sasuke to suddenly get back up, but the Uchiha didn’t move. Kaisuki didn’t look at Gekko-san or Toru, instead simply staring at Sasuke. Something was off. She wasn’t sure what it was, but something was off.

Kaisuki,” Saeka suddenly spoke up from nowhere, sounding extremely agitated. Kaisuki stiffened, her mouth going dry. Saeka sound really angry, for some reason. “Something’s really wrong with him. You need to tell Hatake-san.

I will…” She replied nervously.

“Then,” Gekko-san said, lifting a hand to make the call. “The winner-…”

There was a sound like meat being cut that filled the quietness of the arena, Gekko-san halting mid-sentence, eyes wide in shock. Kaisuki’s eyes widened, and she felt Sakura shift backwards beside her. Naruto had uttered a shocked gasp, and she knew Kakashi-sensei had to look just as amazed as pretty much everyone else.

Sasuke was upright, his left arm splattered with blood, a dripping kunai in his hand. Then, she caught sight of Toru, who had gone to one knee, clutching his shoulder as it gushed blood. It looked like it was probably only attached by a few strips of flesh. The genin from Tanigakure let out a strangled cry, hunching forward, unable to move.

Sasuke turned back to face him fully. He looked eerily calm, even as a pattern of markings twisted out of the original mark on his shoulder. They extended up to his jawline, out from under his left sleeve, and she could see how they spun around his neck. Kakashi-sensei shifted suddenly, and when Kaisuki glanced up at him, she saw the shock in his one visible eye.

There was a visible, dark blue aura surrounding Sasuke, strips of it showing purely black. Where had all that chakra come from? She watched as he reached up with his right hand and jammed his fingers into the tattoo-like mark on his neck, tilting his head to the side as he did so.

“I missed.” He sounded different, though Kaisuki couldn’t have picked out how or why. She could sense that Sakura, Naruto, and Kakashi-sensei had noticed the same thing, though.

Toru looked up at Sasuke, his eyes angry and streaming tears of pain. “You son of a bitch, I left you dry!” He ground out, his voice strained.

The Uchiha’s expression didn’t shift in the slightest, and he didn’t reply at all. Kaisuki was also confused – she wasn’t a sensory type, but everyone had to have felt Sasuke’s chakra levels plummet dangerously low. There was no way he should’ve been able to stand after that. He’d been left in the vicinity of severe chakra exhaustion, and ought to have needed half a week of rest to recover.

He lifted his kunai, and Toru’s eyes widened, fear crossing his expression. He opened his mouth, and Kaisuki could tell by the way his gray eyes darted over to Gekko-san that he had been planning a last-minute forfeit. But Sasuke blinked out of sight, reappearing a few feet behind Toru. Blood sprayed out of a gash across his throat, from where Sasuke had slashed it open cleanly. The wound was deep, nearly halfway through Toru’s neck. He fell to the side, grabbing at his neck for a moment before stilling completely, eyes wide and staring.

Sasuke reached up again, digging his fingers into the same spot on his neck, even as the markings that had spread across his shoulder started to recede again. What was that mark? What had it done to her teammate? The Uchiha wiped his kunai off on his shirt, before re-holstering it and rubbing the blood off his hands, as well. He turned and glanced up at Gekko-san expectantly, his expression continuing to be utterly still.

There was a pause, the pale man still staring at Sasuke as if he had grown another head. After a few seconds, though, he lifted a hand and made the call. “The winner is… Uchiha Sasuke.”

Sasuke stalked off the arena, heading back the way he had come. Kaisuki turned to the door he would come out of, watching for a moment before it opened and he stepped through it. He was still rubbing the blood off his hands, though his movements seemed more frenetic and harsh. He came up to stand beside Naruto, leaning his back against the wall and sinking to the ground.

Kaisuki stepped around Naruto, crouching down in front of the Uchiha, “Are you okay?”

He stared at her for a long moment, before nodding slowly. “I’m tired.” And he looked it. Kaisuki nodded, standing up as Sasuke leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. She turned to Naruto, who gave her a questioning look. Then, she saw Kakashi-sensei and Sakura also looking at her. All three of them looked pretty concerned, but she didn’t think Sasuke was in a life-threatening condition, so she offered them a silent thumbs up. She walked back around Naruto to stand between him and Sakura, where she’d been before.

She looked over at Kakashi-sensei, and saw that he had turned his gaze towards Sasuke. She looked over as well, seeing that the Uchiha’s eyes had closed and he’d become very, very still.

He’s asleep,” Izumi reassured her even as a panic rushed through her. “That’s a good thing. Leave him alone for now.

Alright.” She agreed, taking a deep breath. She turned her attention back out to the arena as Gekko-san appeared in the center of the ring again, clearing his throat loudly.

“The next match will be…”

Hey,” a disembodied voice that she’d never heard before suddenly spoke up in her ear. She could faintly hear that Ino had walked over to ask how Sasuke was, someone excitedly heading to the arena, people chatting about who they thought would win whatever match they were on. Kaisuki’s body felt out of place, and she was extremely tired all of a sudden. She tried to blink the sleepiness out of her eyes, but it wouldn’t go away.

Who…?” She asked slowly, her mind steadily coming to a halt.

It doesn’t matter,” the voice replied. The world was slowly starting to dim, and she wasn’t sure if that was what she was seeing or if that was simply her eyes closing. “I’m sorry about this, but I need you to sleep for a while.

Why…?” But even as she said that, darkness swallowed her, and the faint sound of someone singing a song she didn’t recognize reached her.

Kaisuki stepped out onto the arena two and a half hours after the end of the first round of the preliminary matches. Hyuuga Neji was to be her opponent, and this was to be the last match. Neji was from Team Gai, and Kakashi happened to know exactly how ridiculous his self-proclaimed rival was when it came to training his subordinates. Neji had likely been put through vigorous training, and he was already a genius rivaled by few. He was probably out of Kaisuki’s league, but the Chuunin Exams weren’t necessarily fair.

Sasuke had been escorted to the infirmary by Kakashi and Sakura during the second match (a kid from Kusagakure against Hyuuga Hinata of Team 8). The Uchiha had been looking steadily worse and worse throughout the thirty minute period that he’d been napping against the wall. When Kaisuki told him that the kid was running a fever – evidently noted by Izumi – he decided that Sasuke needed to get into a real bed and get some real sleep.

“Do you think everything will be alright?” Gai suddenly asked him, sounding very serious. Kakashi turned to glance at him, noting the real worry in his gaze. Rock Lee had already been grievously injured, potentially irreversibly, and Tenten had been beaten badly as well. Gai was probably worrying a lot about Neji, considering who he was up against, but Kakashi wasn’t worried. Kaisuki had gotten real control over Saeka, and Izumi wasn’t a threat. He was far from worried.

“It’ll be fine.” He reassured the other man.

The Tsubaki stepped into her spot on one side of Hayate, Neji taking the other side. Kaisuki’s expression was as still as usual. Neji didn’t look much different. The two of them stared at one another, each sizing up the other, as Hayate took two measured steps back, lifting a hand. “Then, let the final match begin.”

Even before Hayate had left the arena, Kaisuki ducked down low and launched herself at Neji, rearing back a fist and aiming for his face. It was a foolish move, and he could’ve sworn he had taught them that rushing into battle like that was always a bad idea. Predictably, Neji deflected the blow to the side. Kaisuki used her momentum to spin around, bringing her elbow up and swinging it at him.

They continued to fight like that, Kaisuki never once letting up, even as Neji began to return her attacks with his own. He was aiming for her tenketsu, as Hyuuga usually did, and Kaisuki was taking most of the blows with surprising ease. Most people would’ve been writhing in pain by that point, but Kaisuki was…

“That’s not Kaisuki.” Naruto suddenly said from beside him, and Kakashi turned to look at him. The blond’s eyes were wide. “That’s not how she fights. And there’s no way she could take that many hits from jyuuken.”

Kakashi stared at him for a moment before turning his gaze back to the battlefield. Naruto was right. Kaisuki movements were usually fluid and done with ease, but now they seemed harsh and much more violent. She moved with precision, despite the blows she was taking, and it looked like her swings were heavier than usual. She also wasn’t using a kunai, which was her normal go-to when engaged in hand-to-hand combat. It wasn’t Saeka. Saeka didn’t move like that. Izumi was an irou-nin, and he couldn’t imagine why she’d have a reason to fight Neji for Kaisuki.

All of it came down to one thing: Kakashi didn’t know who had possessed Kaisuki. He didn’t know what their motives were, he didn’t know if they were planning to kill anyone. He didn’t know how strong this person was, or if it would even be possible to take them down in case of an emergency. They hadn’t been able to subdue and contain Saeka, so there was really no doubt in his mind that maybe this person would be the same.

“Kakashi,” Gai said, sounding anxious. “Who is that, if it’s not Kaisuki?”

Kakashi looked at him. He hoped his anxiety wasn’t written all over his face. Asuma and Kurenai had walked over, evidently noticing the distress coming from a few feet away from them. Kakashi wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to break the news to them.

Having no idea what else he could say, he simply spoke the truth.. “I have no idea,” He said, turning his gaze back to the fight. Kaisuki was still swinging at Neji, but she hadn’t landed a hit yet. “It’s not Saeka, and it’s not Izumi.”

“We should stop the match.” Kurenai immediately supplied, having cottoned on to what was going on. “We can’t leave this be, Kakashi.”

“We’ll intervene if things get dangerous,” Kakashi stated, watching Kaisuki carefully. She wasn’t moving as fast as she usually did, but her movements were still on par with Neji’s. Her eyes didn’t hold killing intent, but were instead icy and calculating. “And only at that point.”

“But-…” Kurenai pressed, and Kakashi held up a hand to silence her. He turned to look at the three jounin, his eyes dead serious.

“I’m acting on the assumption that we won’t be able to take her down even if we want to.” He deadpanned. He was still quite anxious, but he knew what needed to happen, and what needed to not happen. “Because that’s how it was with Saeka. We shouldn’t make enemies unless we have to.”

Gai stared at him in surprise, before his expression turned serious again. The black-haired man nodded stiffly, returning his attention to the match, and Kakashi did the same. There were bruises popping up on Kaisuki’s arms from the way she was blocking Neji’s attacks. The Hyuuga himself had a looked of mild frustration on his face. It was understandable – Kaisuki shouldn’t have been able to stand by that point.

She deflected one of his attacks by slamming her palm into his wrist to throw his attack off course. But then, her fingers curled around Neji’s wrist and her other fist came up out of nowhere, connecting solidly with his forearm. There was a sickening crunch as the Hyuuga’s arm broke, and only seconds after that, Kaisuki had sent the boy flying in the wall with a well-placed fist into his gut.

He threw out an arm when Gai went to go step between Kaisuki and Neji, and for a moment he wasn’t sure why. Then, he listened to the silence in the room, his gut turning. Something was off. He didn’t know what it was yet, but something was wrong. He reached up with his free hand and pushed his hitai-ate up, uncovering his Sharingan. He was going to need to pay close attention from that point on.

Neji slowly started to pick himself up off the ground, one hand pressed against the wall for support. He lifted his head, glaring at Kaisuki, though the pain in his eyes was clear. His broken arm hung in front of him, very nearly a compound fracture. It looked very bad. He would need surgery to fix it, that was for sure.

“You’re…” Kaisuki spoke, her expression shifting into a scowl. Her eyes abruptly flashed from red to blue – definitely an unfamiliar party. “Not Hyuuga Neji, are you?”

Kakashi stiffened, glancing at Gai. The man was watching the scene unfold intently, his expression confused. He could understand that feeling, because he, too, had no idea what was going on. Not Neji? Who else could it be? No other clans could use Jyuuken, and the Byakugan couldn’t be used through a henge.

The Hyuuga in question was staring at Kaisuki as though she had gone insane, his eyes wide, and his face white as a sheet. “W-what are you…” he ground out through clenched teeth. “T-talking about?”

Kaisuki’s scowl intensified, and the look she gave Neji was murderous. She lifted her hands up and started moving them through several hand seals, in a pattern Kakashi didn’t recognize. Her hands stopped on the final seal – ram.

“Humans scream,” she drawled, “when they break bones. Zenshin kirikae no jutsu.”

A white aura surrounded her, so thick they couldn’t see through it. It was blindingly bright, and Kakashi had to shield his eyes from the light. He had no idea what that jutsu had been. Full body transfer? He’d never heard of that before.

The white light slowly subsided, aura getting thinner and thinner until it was gone. Kakashi eyes widened at the sight before him. Kaisuki was gone. Precisely where she had been standing, a woman with ridiculously long, blond hair now stood. She didn’t look particularly strong, but neither had Saeka.

Then, he recalled what she had said.

“Humans scream when they break bones.”

Kakashi’s eyes widened. He looked over at Gai, who met his gaze at the same time. This woman was right. Humans did scream when they broke bones. Members of the ANBU’s Black Ops were capable of preventing themselves from making any sound at all when they were grievously injured, but there was no way a genin would be able to do the same.

He stared at Neji, mouth dry. So, who was that, then? How were they preventing themselves from screaming? And where was the real Neji? He watched as the kid’s eyes widened a fraction, before he lowered his head, seemingly in thought.

After a brief moment though, he laughed. He lifted his head, staring at the woman who had taken Kaisuki’s place, a wild grin on his face. Kakashi’s stomach dropped like a stone. Seeing an expression like that on Neji’s face was truly disturbing. Gai let out a shocked breath beside him, and Kakashi could practically hear his heartbeat. He had to also be wondering where the real Neji was.

“You blew my cover, ya’ bitch,” Not-Neji retorted with a strange accent, one that Kakashi had never heard before. He grabbed the wrist of his broken arm and yanked it hard. The resulting awful sound of bone grinding against bone cut through the room as the fracture was set, and Kurenai made a disgusted sound. “You’re right, I ain’t Neji. Big fuckin’ deal. What’re you going to do about it?”

“Obviously,” the blond stated, expression darkening. “I’m gonna kill you.”

Not-Neji threw his head back and laughed. “Kill me? Ha! What about the real Neji? This is his body, ya’ know!” He said, tilting his head to the side and grinning widely.

“You talk like you think I fucking care,” the woman replied, her voice low and dangerous. Kakashi wasn’t entirely sure what to do. On the one hand, that wasn’t Neji, and that blond woman seemed to know a lot more about it than he did. On the other hand, Not-Neji had just stated that his body was actually the real Neji’s body, and the blond evidently didn’t care about collateral damage. He cursed internally – there weren’t a whole lot of ways that this could go down that wouldn’t end horribly for someone.

“Kakashi…” Kurenai said, and he glanced over at the three of them. They were all staring at him. Of course they were waiting for him to make the call. Two out of three (he was assuming on the blond) of Kaisuki’s spirits were and could be considered highly dangerous, and he still didn’t know how strong this new one was.

She was strong enough to break an arm with a single punch, evidently, but that didn’t tell him a whole lot. A lot of people could do that, after all, and it didn’t always indicate strength or skill. She also moved with precision that suggested that she had either trained extensively, or she had spent a lot of time gaining experience. She was probably at least tokubetsu jounin-level, but she probably had at least a hundred years’ worth of experience more than the four jounin instructor combined. They almost definitely didn’t stand a chance.

Not-Neji smirked widely. “Cool,” he said, attracting Kakashi’s attention. He watched as the imposter lifted a hand that was bathed in jet black chakra. It made Kakashi’s skin crawl just to see it and feel it in the air. “This should be fun, then.”

He thrust his palm forward, letting out a blast of that black chakra. The woman dove out of the way, rolling back onto her feet and running full throttle at the imposter. Not-Neji sent several more of those blasts of chakra at her, but she spun and dodged around them easily, until she was close enough to rear back a fist and swing at him.

The imposter caught her fist with the arm she had previously broken, and with his Sharingan, Kakashi was able to see how much she slowed down her attack before it landed, even as her fist connected with Not-Neji’s palm. He could see her eyes widen a fraction, a brief instant of horror crossing her features.

There was a series of cracks and pops that filled the air, Not-Neji’s eyes widening in a look of both horror and shock, as his arm gave out; elbow hyper-extending, shoulder dislocating, the previously existing fracture splitting apart again, this time piercing through skin, and – if the rest of the damage was any indication – Kakashi could imagine that his wrist was probably broken as well, at the least.

The blond, despite the horrified look that had momentarily appeared on her face, didn’t let up. Considering the amount of damage she was doing to the person that could be Neji, Kakashi was seriously thinking about stepping in. He clenched his fists, cursing his predicament, before looking up at the Hokage.

Sarutobi glanced his way, and their eyes met for a long moment. Then, he slowly nodded, before turning his gaze back to the fight. Hayate was watching the battle, though his eyes frequently flickered up to see what the jounin instructors were doing. Kakashi looked back to Gai, Kurenai, and Asuma, and opened his mouth to speak when an almost unfamiliar voice spoke up from directly behind him.

“She won’t kill him.” The voice said, just loudly enough for him, and possibly Gai, to hear.

Kakashi whirled around, alarmed, when he realized that it was Naruto who was speaking. He stared at the kid for a moment, his mind reeling. Naruto knew her? How? Since when? Why hadn’t he spoken up before that moment? His eyes flicked up to see Sakura, but she hadn’t heard the blond speak.

“How do you know that?” Kakashi asked evenly, keeping his voice lowered so Sakura, who was standing a few feet away, didn’t hear them. Naruto didn’t respond right away, his gaze locked on the battle.

After a moment, Naruto turned to look up at him, and Kakashi’s eyes widened a fraction. The kid’s eyes were red, and he was wearing a smirk that didn’t suit his features at all. He put a forearms on the rails of the short fence and leaned on it, looking positively evil.

“Me and Khrai go way back.” He replied knowingly, before turning back to the fight. “She won’t kill him, but she’ll rip you to pieces if you step between her and that Hyuuga boy.”

“What will she do, then?” Gai asked from beside him, looking wary and distrusting.

“She’ll handle the core of the problem.” Was the only reply they got, as “Naruto” turned back to the fight. He very obviously wasn’t going to divulge any more information, so the jounin didn’t bother asking. He was lucky he’d gotten as much as he had from a volatile creature like the kyuubi.

After a moment of thought in which he observed the battle taking place before him, he turned back to his fellow jounin, frowning. “What do you think?” He asked them seriously, “Be straight with me.”

Kurenai and Asuma exchanged a glanced, while Gai spoke immediately. “I think your initial assessment is probably our best option… even though I really don’t like it. Considering what she did to his…” Gai cleared his throat. “To his arm with that one punch, she probably would rip us all to pieces.”

Kurenai spoke next, “I agree with you two, I think. But as soon as things get dicey…”

Kakashi nodded, turning to Asuma. The man shrugged, taking a drag off his cigarette, “I was with you from the start, Kakashi.”

He nodded and returned his attention to the battle once again. He really needed to stop looking away. Not-Neji’s broken arm was wrapped in what looked like ribbons of that black chakra. It looked as though the energy itself was supporting the limb’s movement. There were black scorch marks all over the ground and walls, and Khrai was still throwing an onslaught of attacks, though Not-Neji now knew better than to try and stop them directly. Instead, he was dodging fully and redirecting the blows away from his face.

It seemed like whoever had… “taken control of” or “taken the place of” Neji couldn’t feel pain at all. Otherwise, there was no way he’d be able to move his arm as much as he was. Now that Kakashi was paying attention again, he could occasionally hear the crunch and grind of bone on bone, and the wound from the compound fracture in his forearm was still bleeding. If this person (or thing, he supposed) was controlling Neji somehow, he was doing a grand job of busting the kid’s body up.

Khrai reared back with her left arm and drove her fist directly at Not-Neji’s head with speed that hadn’t been there before. With his Sharingan, Kakashi caught the moment when Khrai’s thumb came away from the rest of the fist, and he saw her hook that thumb under Not-Neji’s hitai-ate as he dodged out of the way of the attack. The hitai-ate hit the floor with a loud clang as the strange blond pulled back.

He saw her eyes flick up to glance at Neji’s forehead for just a split second before she returned her attention to her fight. Kakashi’s eyes narrowed. He had no idea what she was planning, but evidently it had required that she take off his hitai-ate. He swallowed hard, his body stiff with tension. Abruptly, Khrai leaned into a backwards handspring, putting a few yards between herself and Not-Neji. The white-eyed kid stared at her for a moment, before a smirk appeared on his face.

“Wha-at?” He taunted, “Are ya’-…”

“You’re a fucking idiot.” Khrai stated bluntly, her scowl fading into a more neutral expression. Not-Neji opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off again. “If you were going to possess a Hyuuga, you shouldn’t have picked one from the branch family.”

The kid’s eyes widened a fraction, confusion settling on his features, so Khrai continued. “That mark on his forehead is an chakra receptor. My chakra is corrosive enough to eat through iron. Do the math, dipshit.”

Her hands moved through a few hand seals, coming to rest on the tiger. A look of panic was crossing Not-Neji’s features, and Kakashi felt a cold chill run up his spine. If that mark on his forehead was the real deal, it would mean that that really was Neji. If it was the real deal, Neji would be in excruciating pain, because that was what that chakra receptor was for. It was something the main family used to control the branch family. Nowadays, it was rarely used at all, but it still existed. It was still passed down generation by generation.

There was no pressure that filled the room. There were no words that were spoken by either party. There was no warning whatsoever, before Not-Neji’s eyes widened hugely, his back arching, hands jerking halfway up. His knees gave out and he landed on them hard, his lips parting slightly, but no sound coming out at first.

Then, a bloodcurdling scream burst from his throat. Kakashi’s stomach twisted as he watched. He didn’t know how that felt. No one who hadn’t experienced it knew how it felt. There had been a point when no one really believed that the pain inflicted by main family members via that mark was particularly horrible. There had been a time when it wasn’t considered abusive because the Hyuuga’s kept it a secret amongst themselves.

Many people still thought that way.

Not-Neji’s eyes rolled back into his head, his screams cutting off suddenly as his throat closed up. Khrai pulled her hands apart, and the technique was released. The kid immediately pitched to the side, his face white, blood seeping out of his nose, his whole body twitching all over. The blond quickly strode over to him, crouching down by his side and pressing her fingers to his neck. Then, she looked directly at Gai, and Kakashi felt him stiffen.

“He’s gonna feel like shit when he wakes up,” she stated, sitting back on her haunches. “But he’s all-…”

Cutting her off mid-sentence, the same white light that had brought her there in the first place abruptly swirled around her frenetically, before disappearing. When it disappeared, Kaisuki was there, falling back onto her rear and looking as though she barely had the strength to hold herself upright. Kakashi and Gai exchanged a glanced before they both vaulted the fence and raced over to their separate charges. A medical team was already coming into the room with a stretcher when Kakashi knelt down beside Kaisuki, placing a hand on her back to help hold her up.

She looked up at him, her eyes shadowed with fatigue and her face pale. “Are you alright?” He wanted to know. Kaisuki nodded jerkily. She really looked as though she would pass out. Gai was already following one of the more hasty medical teams out of the arena, looking worriedly at Neji. The kid’s face was gray, and he’d taken quite a beating. It was looking as though he’d be sharing a room with Rock Lee for at least a couple weeks. Gai had every right to be worried about him, considering all that had transpired.

“Kaisuki, do you know who that was?” Kakashi questioned, wanting to get as much out of her out as possible, before she passed out.

Kaisuki closed her eyes, lowering her head somewhat. Then, she slowly shook her head. “I… no.” She mumbled, her voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t know… what happened. I… passed out… after Sasuke’s match.”

Kakashi stared at her for a long moment at that. She’d been gone for that long? How had they not noticed until she got in the arena? If he’d known it wasn’t her, he would never have let her go into that fight. Especially not if the spirit who had possessed her had been trying to hide the fact that she was possessed.

“Alright,” he replied gently. “Can you stand?”

She didn’t hesitate on that one. “No.” Was her soft reply. “I can’t…”

Kaisuki didn’t finish her sentence. Instead, she abruptly slumped towards him, resting against his arm. If she’d lost enough chakra to pass out, she was going to need to be hospitalized for a couple of days while her body replenished itself. As it was, he could feel her heart beating rather slowly through her back.

He heard someone clear their throat and turned his gaze in the direction of the noise, as it had sounded much like the kind of throat clearing used to attract people’s attention. Hayate was the one who had cleared his throat. He was staring at his clipboard with a resigned look on his face, before he looked up and around to make sure he had an adequate amount of attention.

Then, he lifted a hand into the air, and spoke: “The winner of this match is Tsubaki Kaisuki, as per the Hokage’s decision.”

The obvious shifting of the blame had Sarutobi chuckling. Kakashi wasn’t sure if he was pleased or infuriated at the Hokage for making such a call. He decided to let it lie in the back of his mind for now. He had slightly more important things to attend to. He scooped Kaisuki into his arms and walked off the arena with her, heading for the infirmary, from whence she could be transported to the hospital and be treated for severe chakra exhaustion.

He didn’t know what to think about Khrai. She had evidently saved Neji from a fate unknown, and she didn’t seem to have any malicious intent. She had a lot of experience fighting, as well. He could tell simply by how precise her movements were. They were harsh and violent moves, but they had a precision to them that could only be achieved through decades of experience.

She probably had a lot more than decades under her belt.

The jounin reached the infirmary and set Kaisuki down on a random bed, nodding curtly at the head irou-nin when she looked up at him. She smiled at him wearily and briefly, before returning to the paperwork she’d been doing.

He was sure the rest of the team would be joining him soon, so he didn’t bother heading back to see them. Sasuke had evidently been transferred to the hospital, and it looked as though Neji hadn’t stopped in the infirmary at all. He watched the only irou-nin currently in the room for a moment before looking back down at Kaisuki. She didn’t look relaxed at all, despite being completely unconscious.

Kakashi sighed, sitting down in a nearby waiting chair. As he was reaching into his kunai pouch with one hand, he used the other to slide his hitai-ate back into place to cover up his Sharingan. He retrieved the book he’d been rummaging around for and flipped it open to the page he’d left off on. He needed something to concentrate on so he could think coherently.

At the very least, he thought sourly, you got three out of four to the final matches.

It was far from comforting.

Next Chapter

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One Response to the preliminary matches

  1. Pingback: May 11, 2015 | My Rendition of You

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