*Slides into your alert notifications* Hey ladies, Naruto

(Also sorry if the quality of this chapter isn't great, I haven't written anything in a while so gotta wipe off the rust and get that writing engine going lmao)

Recap: Team Gai have successfully taken down another team with a certain redhead. Meanwhile, Kankuro demands team 7 say who was chasing them. After Sakura pretends to not know they are told how the exit will not open until 80 hours have passed. Sasuke then explains to Sakura how he earlier cast a genjutsu on Gaara. Meanwhile, the concussed Naruto finally meets and talks with the Kyuubi, who, in his attempt to get Naruto to release him, mentions Orochimaru and Shukaku. Naruto wakes up the next morning and blurts out about Orochimaru, which Temari overhears. Sakura quickly comes to the realization Naruto knows Orochimaru because of the Kyuubi - a realization that Naruto notices.


Saru mo ki kara ochiru

"Even monkeys fall from trees"

Everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect


I'd only seen Naruto be truly afraid a few times despite the dangerous situations we'd been thrown into together. It was almost as though fear just couldn't sink it's claws into him fast enough - confusion and anger normally got there first and made him do something (usually stupid) to stop the terror from ever really taking hold.

So it felt startlingly wrong to see his expression contort that way as his fingers twisted themselves tightly into the fabric of his jacket and his eyes focused on me, wide, wide open.

I could feel Sasuke's bewildered gaze flickering between Naruto and I but I was so preoccupied with the shock of my revelation and the unnerving wrongness of Naruto's terror that I paid little heed to it.

Why did the Kyuubi tell him about Orochimaru, no, I don't hate you, how does the Kyuubi know about Orochimaru, he thinks I think he's a monster-

"The guy chasing you." Temari's words cut savagely through my thoughts, her voice straining as she spoke. "Was that Orochimaru?"

My eyes darted sideways towards the girl. Her face was twisted in a mixture of growing panic and distrust. She needed an answer to her question, that much was blisteringly clear. But what the hell was I supposed to even tell her? The truth?

Shit, Sasuke had said earlier we hadn't known who was chasing us.

I snapped my gaze back to Naruto, mind racing. If I didn't think up an excuse quick then Temari was going to assume we'd been lying and this whole situation with the sand siblings was too precarious for us to be caught lying about someone the magnitude of Orochimaru. But there was no way in hell I could tell her the truth when the truth involved the god damn Kyuubi! Not only was there the likely chance of Temari straight up not believing us, if she did then Gaara, the host to the tailed beast that hated the Kyuubi the most, could flip!

Fuck, think, think, think!

"...It could have been him," I began slowly, carefully, twisting round to face Temari properly. I didn't have to fake the hesitance in my voice. "The jutsu he used. They're the same as what's written in the bingo book."

Naruto shot me a look that poorly concealed his surprise and Sasuke one that hid it better but I kept my gaze directed towards Temari, willing her to buy the lie that wasn't quite a lie. I had Orochimaru's page in the bingo book practically memorised, the small collection of techniques he favoured most burned into my mind. I'd known even at the time that this knowledge was unlikely to give me any sort of edge in a confrontation with him but it was better than going in totally blind.

Temari seemed to hesitate, deliberating on what I'd just told her with the tightening of her jaw. "Why didn't you say anything earlier then?" She demanded.

I dug my fingernails into my palms. "Because I thought I was wrong." God, I'd wished I was wrong. "He's an S-ranked criminal. Why the hell would he even be here?" It sounded so ridiculous when I said it aloud. Orochimaru, one of the legendary sannin, taking the time to terrorise some chūnin hopefuls. Judging by Temari's reaction of reluctant acceptance to my flimsy excuse, she seemed to think so too.

Then, suddenly, her reaction changed. The widening of her eyes by a fraction was subtle but the sharp, quiet intake of breath and quick flick of a glance towards Gaara was less so. She'd realized something, I decided, watching as she covered up her previous expression with one of false authority, drawing herself up whilst taking a step back.

"Next time don't neglect to tell us something like that," she ordered, clearly pretending the strain to her voice wasn't there. "And keep your voices down more." Temari then turned and began to walk back towards Kankurō, pace quickening as she went. I stared after her.

Why the hell would he even be here? That was the question that had caused Temari's reaction to change so suddenly. The answer was for Sasuke and then beyond that the invasion. How much did Temari know about the invasion? How much had the sand siblings as a collective been told? Undoubtedly, they were aware it was going to happen and that Oto was going to be involved - I couldn't see any real scenario where they wouldn't have been told at least that much - but beyond that they clearly didn't know much else.

Temari's reaction to Orochimaru pretty much told it all. Horror and shock that he was even there in the first place, then some kind of horrified epiphany. Most likely, I realized, thoughts beginning to pick up speed, she'd just made the connection herself between Orochimaru's statement that he had use for Gaara yet to the invasion. It wasn't hard to link Orochimaru to the sound anyway (rumours had been flying about for a while after all) so that step was an easy one to make after the first connection.

So, if Temari had had to make that deduction herself then most likely none of the siblings had been told of the snake sannin's involvement. Which made a hell of a lot of sense since Orochimaru's name could easily spread like wildfire if uttered carelessly. But for them to discover that he had a part in Suna's scheme to overthrow Konoha in the brutal way they had…

To put it bluntly, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Temari had her doubts about the invasion when it involved a man that showed such disregard for his supposed allies-

Wait.

My eyes widened. Doubt. Doubt bred to fear and fear bred to irrationality. Granted, Temari had a better grip on the situation than Kankurō (and Gaara, but for vastly differing reasons), however, just one little push and she'd lose all the hold she had. And irrationality made for tongues far looser than they should be. I'd experienced that first hand multiple times; it was irrational anger that made me blow my cover, made me rant at Sarutobi, made me scream at Gaara.

All I needed were a few choice words. Ones circumstantial enough, ones damning enough if said by the Kazekage's daughter.

I can get proof the invasion is going to happen.

I swallowed thickly, head buzzing. If- if I could just get some evidence that the invasion was going to happen then Konoha would be forced to do something, wouldn't they? Orochimaru was one thing but the betrayal of an entire allied village was something completely different.

This was my chance.

It was a dangerous, dangerous game to play, to try to change things in my favour. The tightrope to success was deathly thin and one wrong step would bring my entire plan crashing down. It was a million times better to run and hide than attempt to manipulate things this way.

But running hasn't been an option for a long time now.

I breathed out, slowly. A few words. I couldn't just use my own knowledge of the imminent invasion as lying would just lead to inconsistencies which would in turn lead to a trip to T&I. So all I needed to do was coax a few words from Temari and feed them back to Kakashi in a way that would make him believe me.

Doable. Frighteningly, hysterically doable-

"Sakura."

I twisted round to see Sasuke staring at me, concern and suspicion furrowing his eyebrows. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Naruto had his arms wrapped around his stomach, biting hard down on his lips and skin pale. Sasuke glanced briefly behind him over at the sand siblings before bringing both his hands in front of him, rapidly forming a series of signs.

"How long did you know?"

It took a moment for me to realise he was referring to Orochimaru. He knows I've known it was Orochimaru who attacked us for a while. I unclenched my hands and, after pausing for a few seconds, shook my head.

"We can't talk about this now."

I was barely managing to keep up the stream of lies to our tentative allies as it was without lying to my teammates too. Hopefully, Sasuke would forget about this by the time we finished this stage. Although, judging by his reluctant expression, all I'd managed to do was buy myself some time to think an acceptable excuse up. I clenched my jaw. That was going to have to do.

And now, to deal with the other one…

Naruto purposefully didn't meet my gaze when I looked back over at him. Instead, his eyes seemed to dart across the clearing as though he were searching for some sort of escape route. I needed to do something about this and fast. Our survival hinged on our ability to make smart decisions and cope as a team. If I hadn't managed to hold Kankurō hostage we would've died. If Sasuke hadn't used his sharingan we would've died. If Naruto hadn't cushioned our fall in the desperate run from Orochimaru we would've died.

Teamwork was important. It wasn't like I hadn't known this with how Kakashi constantly harped about it to us but now it was one of the sole things keeping me alive I understood it at a level I hadn't before. If we couldn't function properly as a unit then we would die, simple as.

"Naruto." He flinched. I nearly winced. I wasn't some kind of eloquent speaker and reassurement even to myself had never worked particularly well so the simple words felt awkward in my mouth. "It's okay."

And it wasn't, I knew, but Naruto's shoulders sagged and his grip on his stomach loosened a little. "Okay," he repeated in a whisper, nodding but still not meeting my gaze. Sasuke shot another look my way, this time in a more demanding fashion, however, I just shook my head again.

We can't talk about this now.

Once more, the reluctance was clear as day on his face, although I let my attention flick to Temari instead. The girl had reached Kankurō and her lips were moving rapidly, her brother's expression twisting more and more with disbelief. I let my eyes then move upwards towards Gaara, still lounging on his tree branch, only to spy the clouds just above the canopy darkening.

I set my jaw.


"Well, would you look at that?"

A boy with a headband proudly boasting a single note raised his eyebrows as he peered through a gap between the throngs of trees. His voice, despite being rich with cruel amusement, held undeniable tones of honest surprise at what he was seeing. "A Konoha and Suna team banding together."

One of his companions, Kin, raised an eyebrow, her arms folded as she too stared out to the clearing. "Now I've really seen it all. Although," she added with a slight snicker, "if they're that pathetic they need to make a truce with their enemies then they're hardly going to be a challenge."

"I wonder whether the main villages will feel particularly mortified when the 'no name' Oto village is the first to complete the second stage," the third, Dosu, wondered aloud smugly, his two teammates grinning at the thought.

"Not particularly since you'll be dead."

The three Oto-nin twisted round fast, hands flying to weapons pouches only to drop when they saw who it was. "O-Orochimaru-sama!"

The man smiled easily at them, pose entirely too casual for someone who had narrowly avoided being skewered with kunai. Zaku barely stopped himself from gaping openly at him. "But, I thought you-"

"Were elsewhere?" Orochimaru grinned. "Come, like I'd miss out on all the fun."

Kin and Zaku both hesitated briefly before their muscles relaxed slightly - not completely, but perceptibly less than before. Dosu however paused longer, his one visible eye narrowing. Then, the boy raised his arm to point at Orochimaru, his other moving to halt his teammate's who had started in alarm at his sudden movement. "You almost had us there," he said slowly, a threat seeping into his words. "But did you really think you could fool an Oto-nin's ears?"

His teammates jerked in surprise, scowls quickly setting themselves on their faces as they shifted back into battle ready positions. Senbon slid into Kin's hands whilst Zaku raised both his arms. "Who the hell are you?!"

'Orochimaru' smile stayed firmly fixed whilst he put his hands up. "You got me. I'm not Orochimaru. But," he continued before any of the Oto-nin could interject, "I bring a message from him."

"You expect us to believe that?" Kin sneered.

"Of course." Kin almost threw her senbon at him then and there. "Why else would I impersonate Orochimaru-sama if I weren't an ally? No one here should know you're here on his orders. Besides, if I imagined to fool you for even a second then I must know Orochimaru-sama pretty well to impersonate him at such a high level."

Zaku growled, equally as frustrated as his female teammate, however, Dosu glared at him, shutting him up. "Say you're telling the truth. Why didn't you just show up without pretending to be Orochimaru?"

'Orochimaru' put one hand on his hip, assuming a pose that looked incredibly patronising. "I'm on an undercover mission and, quite frankly, I can't risk showing myself to some inexperienced rookies who could easily end up blowing my cover."

Both Kin and Zaku tensed with fury but yet again Dosu quieted them with a single look. He then moved his gaze back to the fake Orochimaru, not yet lowering his arm. "...What's the message?"

He received in return a smile that seemed to whisper 'smart lad'. "There's been a change in your mission," he explained. "Orochimaru-sama no longer wishes for you to kill Sasuke Uchiha-"

"What?!" Kin cut in before he could continue."But our entire objective-"

'Orochimaru' narrowed his eyes, smile finally dropping. "Listen to others when they are speaking."

A sudden spark in killing intent forced Kin to slam her mouth shut, eyes flying wide open in unexpected terror. The spark then disappeared as quickly as it had came, smile returning to grace the imposter's lips. "Your mission is no longer to kill Sasuke Uchiha. Instead, Orochimaru-sama has a different task for you in mind…"


We started moving around fifteen minutes after the whole Orochimaru fiasco had been cleared up (if cleared up meant brushed as far under the carpet as possible). Like yesterday Gaara headed the pack whilst my teammate's and I were sandwiched in the middle of him and his siblings. Unlike yesterday however the thick tension had thinned and Kankurō wasn't shooting me death glares all the time. The threat of Orochimaru seemed to keep him and Temari too occupied to bother with letting us know how little they trusted us.

From what I could tell, we were moving towards the area the exit was in plus slightly towards the fence. Not close enough that my teammates and I could try making a break for it but enough so that the threat of an attack from behind diminished slightly. Of course, with Gaara around the danger of a sneak attack was hardly worth noting unless it was from the likes of Orochimaru, but Temari and Kankurō seemed just as eager to let their brother be their only protection as I was - especially when it was going to be for the next sixty-five or so hours.

My fingers twitched towards my weapons pouch and I tried to think of something else other than Gaara right in front of me. I'd been too tired yesterday to properly consider the implications of the eighty-hour period where everyone was stuck in the forest, however, now I could see exactly how everything I'd previously thought about had gone to hell.

Initially, I'd assumed intelligence specialist teams had gotten an exam that yet again played in their favour. Unlike the scroll battle exam, there'd been no real incentive to engage other teams. You could, in theory, pass without ever facing off another person in a fight. But with that time period in place the type of team with an advantage in this stage shifted entirely.

There were sixty-six people taking part in this exam, so twenty-two teams. Realistically, out of those teams, at the very most three would've been told about the time period. So, the likelihood of it getting out to the majority of teams before the eighty-hours were up was extremely slim.

If you considered the first exam too, it was reasonable to assume there were a number of fairly good intel specialist teams. The best were likely to have figured out the location of the exit within the first day and a half. And, naturally, the minute they figured it out they'd go in search of it, eager to finish the second stage.

But they wouldn't find anything.

The descent to chaos would rapidly get steeper. Self-doubt in their information and capability as teams would be the first step that would, as time went on, quickly devolve into panic when they realized they just couldn't find the exit. As soon as the halfway mark had passed by, desperation would kick in hard.

So what would the panicked intelligence teams under the impression they'd been doing something terribly wrong do?

They'd come to the conclusion they needed more information.

And where was the one place where they could be practically guaranteed to run into another team fast?

The tower.

The tower where all the combat specialist teams - that weren't panicking because they hadn't found enough information yet to see something had gone wrong - were gathered so they could beat the info out of others.

It'd be a bloodbath, simple as that. The intelligence specialist teams would be making sloppy moves in their panic and become easy targets. The combat specialist teams would be having a damn field day with all these people who didn't stand a chance against them. It'd be like sending lambs to the slaughter and entirely tip the scales of this whole stage.

Only the intel specialists that managed to keep entirely calm about the situation or were smart enough to figure it all out would be able to pass. Which made sense when you realized people wanted flashy teams for the spectacle of the third round. If you were one of the 'bland' ones then you had to be the best of the best in your specialization in order to be allowed to pass.

Team ten would pass by virtue of Shikamaru definitely being clever enough to figure out the horrifically cruel trap. Team eight however, whilst not traditionally fitting into the intelligence team role but definitely being likely to act as such in this stage anyway, were in danger of falling victim to it with the hot-headed Kiba and nervous Hinata.

Had we not come across the sand siblings, we'd avoid the trap ourselves through virtue of team seven being a combat team ourselves. I'd like to think I'd figure out the trap were we able to gather the information in time to reach the exit before it opened but, as obvious as it might seem, assuming a certain time threshold had to be passed before the stage could actually be completed was an incredibly risky move. It meant waiting in one place for something that might not even happen and wasting precious time doing so.

Besides, we'd had no indication something like this might happen. At least Ibiki had blatantly mentioned the idea of cheating. Anko had said nothing of the sorts! I could practically hear the woman's cackles and smug tone: no one spoon feeds you everything in the real world so either suck it up or die brats, your choice.

The feeling of something wet on my face yanked me harshly back to reality and I glanced upwards just in time to see the drops of rain turn into a full on downpour. As if things weren't bad enough, I thought bitterly as I pulled my hood over my head.

Naruto, who had spoken sparsely since my revelation about the Kyuubi, glanced over my way. He hesitated before plastering an exaggerated frown on his face. "That's unfair Sakura-chan," Naruto huffed probably a little louder than he should've in a way that was somehow painfully hopeful.

Sasuke made a scoffing sound, although his relief was palpable. "You should have bought a hood then," he muttered back, quietly.

The blonde's tentative smile was barely concealed under his scowl. "Hey, like you can talk, funnel-neck!"

Sasuke looked genuinely taken aback. "Funnel-neck-"

"Shush," I hushed them both, feeling Kankurō's glare on my back. Sasuke and Naruto both squinted at each other but didn't say anything else.

The overgrowth clearly wasn't thick enough to stop the downpour at all at within minutes, hood or not, we were all soaked through to the bone. "Just great," I heard Kankurō hiss behind me, a sentiment I couldn't help but share. Hopefully, it would let up soon. It wasn't such a rainfall it obscured vision, however, if it continued like this then it was going to be an issue. Our clothing was going to get weighed down with rain alone - funnel-neck Sasuke especially - which would be a problem in a combat-

I blinked.

Chakra.

A drop of chakra had just hit me- and another and another.

The rain. The rain was imbued with chakra. Not all of it, I was sure, and it certainly hadn't been there when the downpour had started, but now…

Twisting my head around, I met Sasuke's gaze. And I must've looked relatively shaken because his eyes instantly widened. Carefully, I pulled my hood further over my head, fingers positioned in an exact pattern.

Enemies.

Sasuke immediately slowed and I matched his pace, Naruto doing the same although in a way that seemed unconscious. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a confused expression fly across Temari's face before she shot me a fierce questioning look. Suddenly, I felt almost back in the clearing, struggling to figure out what to tell her, but for vastly different reasons.

There were enemies nearby and chances were they were watching us right now. However, there was no shared sign language between Konoha and Suna-nin. Kunoichi didn't even have a universal one. There was no chance of her having a clue what I meant even if I tried signing to her using the basic Konoha sign language since it was constantly developing with the intention of outsiders not being able to keep up. Not telling her anything though was a recipe for disaster when she'd realized something was wrong.

"...It's quite raining a lot, isn't it?" I spoke slowly, edging a smile onto my face and willing Temari to understand.

Luckily, the wrongness of me initiating a conversation with her, wearing a smile no less, seemed to be enough for her to get the point. She paused briefly before jerking her head into a nod by the smallest amount, hand moving closer to her fan.

"A lot doesn't even begin to describe it!" Naruto grumbled too loudly again, but he was talking faster than before. It was a nervous tick of his, to speak faster and faster the more tension was laid on him.

"Shut up," Kankurō muttered scathily and was wholly ignored.

"I mean, it doesn't normally rain this much in Konoha," Naruto continued and I started to tune him out, gaze darting around my surroundings. What was going on? Was this a detection technique? No, that was too high class for anyone in the exams aside from Orochimaru and that wasn't his style at all. Hidden in the rain technique then?

Beside me, I spied Sasuke lower his head slightly, hand moving as if to wipe his eyes. From my angle, I could just about see the dark colour of his eyes suddenly bloom red, two tomoe spinning in one and a single in the other. My fingers itched for a kunai.

Careful. Don't let them know you've noticed this.

Naruto was still rambling away as I cast my gaze towards Gaara. He was showing no signs he'd realized we'd stumbled into what was most likely the prelude to an attack, though it was difficult to see any reaction from him other than anger. I then saw I was wrong and that small grains of sand practically imperceptible through the rain were surrounding him. But is that conscious or the sand moving of its own free will?

I wanted the cool metal of a weapon in my palm badly.

"-anyway, it shouldn't be rainy season for a while still so it'll clear up soon. Unless it doesn't, which would be real weird-" Naruto was cut off by a loud noise of frustration from Kankurō, everyone aside from Gaara turning at his outburst.

The puppeteer was practically fuming. "Would you just shut up already you-" I didn't hear the rest of what he said because that was when an umbrella suddenly swung towards the boy's head out of nowhere.

Sasuke was the first to react. He hurled kunai a fraction of a second before the rest of us could and just like that an entire human being jumped out of the rain, abandoning their attack on Kankurō to defend themselves. Their umbrella snapped open and the kunai ricocheted off of it, flying into the nearby bushes and trees. My eyes automatically followed one and it was only because of it I caught glimpse of more umbrellas appearing out of thin air.

A memory danced through my mind.

"Move!"

I yanked Naruto hard out of the way, diving towards the cover of a nearby tree. We reached it not a moment too soon.

The sound of the senbon needles raining down was almost like gunfire and its effects just as destructive. I pulled Naruto close against me and pressed myself flat against the tree as the metal fired down around us. The sheer speed of the needles sent hefty splinters of bark flying on impact and puddles of water shooting upwards.

"Sasuke!" Naruto yelled over the din and I twisted my head to the side, squinting to see past all the wood, rain and metal. Temari had found refuge behind a tree just across the way of the senbon needles' warpath and was snapping open her fan. I then spied, not without a measure of relief, Sasuke crouched by a tree diagonally from us. Kankurō was nowhere to be seen however Gaara was all too obvious.

He hadn't moved at all, sand working instead to almost cocoon his body as protection from the hailing metal.

There was barely time to even consider my next move properly before Temari made hers, twisting her entire body around as she swung her fan. "Wind scythe jutsu!"

Metal shrieked against metal as everything bar Gaara and his sand was sent flying backwards, tearing through the air. Sasuke jumped out from behind his tree, flinging handfuls of shuriken with pinpoint precision to two seemingly empty branches. Two more people jumped out of thin air once more, dropping down to the next branch below to dodge the attack as their Ame headbands shone.

Gaara's sand flew at them both but, to my surprise, only one tendril managed to reach it's target, wrapping around one of the Ame-nin's ankles and yanking them off the tree.

"Baiu!"

I snapped my head around to see the first of our attackers racing back through the mud towards us with his hands reaching for the umbrellas on his back. He tossed them into the air just as both Naruto and I started forming hand signs.

"Shadow clone jutsu!" Naruto shouted as I substituted with a senbon needle right beside Sasuke. One of my hands grabbed him, the other the nearby tree, and we went swinging behind it, feet sliding across the mud. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Naruto sprinting behind a shield of shadow clones, only just managing to run faster than the rain of senbon needles.

I slammed my back against the tree trunk, the mockery of gunfire ringing in my ears. Sasuke crouched close beside me and I could feel his chakra flickering almost wildly. I clenched my teeth, waiting, gripping the slippery hilt of my kunai tight.

"Ha!"

Another powerful gust of wind ripped through the air and I could feel the tree at my back shaking violently as the senbon were repelled yet again. Both Sasuke and I began to move however, before either of us could dart out of cover, the unforgettable sound of Gaara's sand flying through the air shot past us. Craning my neck, I watched as the first Ame-nin dodged the first stream of sand by jumping into the air only for it to curl back in on itself and hit him from behind.

"It's slower," Sasuke muttered with sharingan spinning, although there was no time to properly comprehend what he'd said. Instead my attention was taken by Gaara's sand swinging the Ame-nin hard into the ground and I twisted my head to the other side to see the redhead himself, unmoving in his sand cocoon.

"Shit, Shigure!" The last free Ame-nin swore as he dropped from his branch, grabbing an umbrella on his way down and brandishing it. Gaara's gaze darted unhurriedly up to him, sand beginning to rise, only to stop when the redhead suddenly moved.

The sand that had been cocooning him abruptly pushed outwards to reveal something forming out of the ground beside the boy and the sand that had been rushing to attack the Ame-nin turned back. It slammed into whatever had been forming and on impact exploded into this black liquid that showered everywhere.

Gaara slid to a stop a few feet away, eyes narrowing. "Who's there?" He rasped. As if in response, the black liquid began to slowly congregate back together, bubbling upwards to form limbs. Sasuke then stiffened a moment before the ground started to deform in other places too, more recognisably human shapes starting to emerge.

A few moments later and they were recognisable in even more ways.

My eyes widened at familiar jumpsuits and masks that cloaked the emerging ninja, the straight lines of Ame worn proudly on their foreheads. "Pardon the intrusion," one out of what amounted to at least thirty clones of the same three people spoke aloud in a gleeful, somewhat garbled tone.

The original Ame team, having presumably taken advantage of the distraction to free themselves from Gaara's sand, landed in the middle of the crowd, all three brandishing their umbrellas in a way that should've looked ridiculous. "We didn't need you help," Shigure growled out, glaring at Gaara. Gaara returned the glare tenfold.

"Can't fellow Ame-nin help each other out?" Another of the clones wondered, earning themselves a distrustful glower from a fellow villager.

Temari kissed her teeth loudly, twisting around the tree nearby Sasuke she'd been using as cover. "As if one team wasn't annoying enough," she muttered in a mixture of disbelief and irritation.

I flexed my fingers around my kunai, shifting my feet further apart. There were twenty seconds or so where everything remained still save for the torrent of rain still pouring it down. Watching, waiting for the trigger to move. My eyes scanned the crowd of clone. Wait. I could feel the water trickling down my back. Wait. Breathing out, slowly.

Wait.

Smoke exploded above us.

"Get them!" An army of Narutos accompanied by a single puppet suddenly jumped down from the branches above and all hell broke loose.

I ducked underneath a series of shuriken that Sasuke subsequently batted away, sharingan wide open. "Naruto-" he began calling out, but I grabbed him, pulling him hard behind the tree again.

"The users have to be nearby!" I hissed and Sasuke immediately spun, eyes scanning the surroundings fast. A small barrage of senbon flew past the tree towards us only for Temari to push them back with her fan, darting over to us.

"What do you mean the users are nearby?" She demanded, blocking a spray of black liquid that shot towards us.

"The clones are a genjutsu," I snapped back. A very high class genjutsu. It was only because I'd been looking for it that I'd noticed it. "They're throwing weapons from nearby."

Temari's eyes widened at the exact moment Sasuke stopped moving."There!" He broke into a sprint and I followed, Temari hesitating for a split second before snapping her fan shut and doing the same.

My feet slid across the mud as I ran, darting between trees at a speed that was making me dangerously close to slamming into them. "Kunai!" Sasuke yelled, heels digging into the ground as he turned sharply to the right. I threw my body weight to the side, kunai narrowly missing my shoulder. Realising just in time that the movement had thrown me in a tree's path, I shoved my chakra to my feet and just kept on running.

I scaled the tree quickly, eyes catching a glimpse of the tell tale white jumpsuits around twenty meters away. A plan whizzed through my mind too quickly for me to see the flaws and I landed squarely on a branch, bending low. Then, using all my strength and chakra, I launched myself from it.

Gravity pulled me down fast. The air clawed at my clothing, already wet and heavy, as my arms desperately tried to stabilise my body. Idiot, my mind shrieked. Idiot, idiot, idiot! Shuriken grazed the bottom of my sandals as I flew clean over the Ame-nin's heads, mind's shrieks getting louder. The branch was coming up rapidly and I straightened my legs, ready to land, and-

My feet made contact.

But only briefly.

The rain had made the branch slick and slippery and I slid right off it. My heart flew into my mouth, idiot, and I reacted before I was even aware of it, body twisting and hands reaching out for the branch. Chakra from my feet flew into my fingers, kunai falling, and I gripped on tight, legs swinging back around at breakneck speed.

Had the Ame-nin not ducked just barely in time, I would've probably taken one of their heads clean off.

My feet slid when they hit the mud, body falling backwards into the ground. I pressed my hands fast into the ground to my left and spun, using the momentum to turn it into a low kick. This time only two of them dodged and I sent one of them sprawling face first into the mud. Pushing hard off the ground, I yanked a kunai out before I landed back on my feet. I was then forced to fall into an awkward backflip, water-clones shooting out of the ground in an attempt to skewer me.

A gust of wind shot right past my side, water-clones sent flying into a tree and exploding. I rightened to see the Ame-nin retreating and fast, tossing shuriken as they went. Sasuke slid in between the hurled weapons and me, hitting them away with ingrained precision. He then launched his kunai far through the air, twisting to face me before it landed a little beyond the retreating ninja. Already seeing what he wanted, I put one arm around his neck, fingers deftly moving through the seals with practiced ease.

We both landed right in the Ame-nin's path, the trio's backs to us. Pulling my arm back, chakra concentrated just over my knuckles, I snapped my fist forwards. It connected with one of their backs and connected hard.

I could practically hear the cracking of their ribs as the boy was sent careering forwards - right towards the running Temari. Fan closed and brandished, she swung, metal smacking into their side and body straight into a tree.

Distracted momentarily with the sight, I narrowly avoided a punch to the head as Sasuke neatly decapitated three water clones. Ducking low, I tried stabbing downwards into my opponent's foot but the simply jumped, kicking at me instead. I leant back fast, free right hand flying up to catch their foot. It was as a strong kick, strong enough to reopen the wound across my palm.

But not as strong as Lee's.

Grabbing onto their foot with both hands, I kept on moving backwards into the ground and flung them hard over my head. The sight of water clones suddenly rushing at me caused curses to get stuck in my throat and I pushed myself off the ground, chakra shooting to by legs again once I was on my feet and jumping back.

The landing came much quicker than I expected. It was also vastly less muddy than it should have been. I had approximately one second to realize I'd landed on Temari's fucking fan before the girl unceremoniously launched me into the air in parody of an earlier moment I hadn't wanted to repeat. My body sailed over one of the Ame-nin and I slammed my fingers together quickly, turning and falling upon impact with the slippery ground. Their double ended kunai barrelled down towards me and I sucked in deeply, shooting a compressed stream of mist right into their eyes.

They yelled out, stumbling backwards and rubbing at their eyelids furiously. The sudden rise in heat made us both turn and I scrambled backwards through the mud as a gigantic ball of fire came hurtling our way, steaming through a group of water clones. Temari then swung her fan and the flames began to roar, eating everything in their path including the blinded Ame-nin. Garbled shrieks left their rebreather as their body was thrown like a rag doll across the mud, landing in a heap that steamed when the rain hit it.

Tearing my eyes away, I stumbled back to my feet, running back towards the enemy I'd flung over my head into the ground. They were slowly getting to their feet when I reached them but I grabbed a fistful of their jumpsuit and swung them around, slamming them into the ground. Violent coughs ripped through their chest as I pinned them there with my knee on their stomach. Hand diving into my weapons pouch, I brought out my map of the Forest of Death, ignoring how the rain and mud threatened to strain it.

"Where's the exit?!" I snarled in their face, grip on their jumpsuit so tight it was beginning to be painful.

They barely hesitated in pointing it out.

Pocketing the map hurriedly, I then lifted their body up slightly before slamming them back into the ground. It knocked them clean out.

I waited a moment to check they weren't faking it, only then loosening my grip on them. A few seconds passed where I didn't move, breathing hard (but not as hard as I was used to). For the first time I could properly feel the mud caking my body and my hair plastered uncomfortably against my skin. At some point my hood had fallen off too and I nearly grabbed at it to pull it back on but realized all that would accomplish was to drag more mud across my hair.

Instead I stood up slowly and turned to face Sasuke and Temari. They were both breathing as hard as I was. Sasuke was covered in mud, the same as me. Temari less so. We all just stood there, staring at each other, words refusing to push past our lips.

The silence was broken with a scream.

"Naruto," Sasuke breathed, eyes I hadn't noticed turn dark again fly wide open. He broke into a sprint even faster than the one used to chase the Ame-nin and I raced after him. Temari shouted something after us that I couldn't hear, struggling to keep up with Sasuke.

I arrived back where we'd left the others a few seconds after my teammate, lungs burning and mind swarming with snippets of plans to either get away or bargain our way out of death again. The sight of watered down blood made me slide to a stop and I pressed my hand against a tree, heart thundering. Sasuke was crouched down on the senbon and mud covered ground, one arm reaching out for our blonde teammate who was-

Alive.

More than alive.

And glaring at Gaara with a snarl.

Shit.


I feel like this chapter is kinda all over the place cuz I haven't written properly in a while but HEY COOL FIGHT SCENE

Anyway, sorry this update took so long! My exams finally finished just under two weeks ago and I really needed to do nothing for a while to recover haha. Remember to always check my profile or TKAB blog if updates are being slow because I post reasons for slow updates there :)

And also sorry for missed reviewer replies - the time during my exams is kinda hazy now with all the revision and lack of sleep so I have no idea who I did and didn't reply to OTL

But yeah, better chapter for next time cuz we've finally got a lot of stuff moving now ;)

(Also, Sakura screaming idiot internally at herself after having done something potentially stupid? Relatable.)

Reviewer Question: If you had to trust someone within the Naruto-verse with the information that you had knowledge of future and past events that you really shouldn't know about, who would you choose? (suggested by FilleDePluie)

Maybe Itachi? Other people I feel wouldn't actually act on the information I told them but he definitely would use it since it would concern both Konoha and his brother. It would definitely be somewhat of a gamble though considering how he can be somewhat merciless when required but I think it would be a risk worth taking. That is if he had joined Akatsuki already - if he hadn't then it would be a pretty risk free venture.

I just feel telling people like Minato, Jiraiya and Tsunade for example wouldn't help much since they're in fairly compromised positions to really use the information I gave them effectively regardless of how much less risky it would be to go to them instead.