AN: Well, might as well get started on this chapter. It'll start out with some fluff of a sort, then we can move on to the prelims at long last.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, Prototype, or any other fandom referenced in this story. I do, however, own the concept of the Gormim.

"Speech"
Text
Thoughts
Inner being to outer being
Bijuu/Jinchuuriki/Elemental form
Jutsu/Technique

Chapter 27: Random acts of kindness between strangers, believe in the me who believes in you, and the Third Test begins.

Naruto opened his eyes. Once again there had been no transition between sleeping and waking. As far as he could remember, there had been no dreams, though he couldn't remember sleeping at all. The only way he could tell was because Mido had told him that it was indeed the next day.

Hinata was gone. He sat up and looked around, trying to glean some clue as to where she'd gone. Then he heard the shower running and grinned. It seemed Hinata had realized just how dirty she was from the forest. He lay back down; he was in no hurry to do anything yet. After the hellish experiences of the previous day, it would be nice to relax for a while…

"Eep!"

He reopened one eye and glanced over. His girlfriend, it seemed, had finished her shower and come out. She seemed to have neglected to bring a change of clothes with her, so all she wore was a towel wrapped around her body, which she hugged to herself even more tightly.

Naruto smirked. "Well, now I know I'm awake. If I were dreaming, there wouldn't be a towel." Hinata let out another squeak and blushed brightly. He merely laughed and turned over, giving her the privacy she wanted. While he listened to her get dressed (which wasn't as exciting as it sounds), he continued, "Mind you, if it were a nightmare, there would only be the towel and no you."

"Very funny," she said quietly.

He frowned slightly at her subdued tone. "Sorry."

"N-no, it's fine. I don't really…" Hinata trailed off with a sigh.

"You dressed?"

"Mm."

Naruto rolled over and off the bed onto his feet. He put his arms around her and squeezed reassuringly, noticing that she flinched slightly and looked away from him. "What's the matter?" he asked gently, "I know I said you didn't want to talk about it, but if it'll help to get it off your chest…"

For a long while, the pale-eyed girl remained silent, but leaned into her loved one's embrace. Finally, she asked in a tiny, quavering voice, "Naruto-kun…have I really gotten stronger?"

Of all the things she could have said or asked, Naruto was not quite expecting that. He blinked. "I'm afraid I don't understand," he admitted carefully.

"It's just," unbidden, her hands came up and she started poking her fingertips together. This worried Naruto; she hadn't done that for a while, "I thought that all the training I've done since becoming a Shinobi would have made me stronger, but…since we entered this forest, I've just been a burden to everyone. When those Suna-nin attacked us, all I could do was dodge, but I still got caught and you still had to save me. And then," her breath hitched, "We…we ran into th-them!"

(Flashback- the previous day)

Hinata stopped dead in her tracks. She had been at the front of her team, leading them towards a team she'd spotted with her Byakugan in the hope of getting the proper scroll. However, even as Kiba and Shino stopped on either side of her, she felt the blood drain out of her face. Before them stood the team from Kumogakure. The Hyuuga began to shiver as she stared at them. She couldn't move.

"Huh?" The dark, red-haired girl of the team looked over and saw them, "Oi! Konoha-nin approaching!" she barked at her teammates, who were not paying attention.

The only boy, who was also dark-skinned with pale-blond hair and a lollipop in his mouth, whipped around. "Oh damn!" he said, "They could've snuck up on us. If you hadn't seen them, they could have slit our throats, and then taken our scroll."

This guy…is kinda annoying, thought Kiba, rather hypocritically.

The redhead smacked him across the back of the head. "Can it, Omoi, I did see them! Hey, wait," she squinted at Hinata, who paled even more and shrunk in on herself, "Those eyes…they have a Hyuuga!"

Their third member, a blond young woman with icy blue eyes and a sizable bust, spoke up. "I recognize her from the First Test. She nearly dropped out at the last question, but that boy stopped her."

"Oh yeah," murmured the other girl muttered, "I thought Hyuuga were supposed to never back down from things like that." Hinata flinched, remaining silent. "Oi, Hyuuga!" A twitch. "What's wrong? Too scared to do anything without your boyfriend?"

To Hinata's shame she felt tears well up in her eyes. She opened her mouth to try and reply, but had to clap her hands over it so they wouldn't see her lip trembling.

Omoi noticed, however. "I think you're making her cry, Karui."

Karui scoffed slightly. "Yeah right. A Kunoichi wouldn't cry from something like that!"

The Hyuuga in question took a step back as a choked, mortified sob tore itself from her throat. However, Shino stepped in front, blocking her from view. "Perhaps we should merely get this over with," he said simply, "Why? Because we have only scroll. Why does it matter to you? My Kikai tell me you only have one as well."

"Tch. Worst case scenario already," The redhead Kumo-nin muttered mutinously, "Alright then, let's go. Samui, you get the Hyuuga. Omoi, take the weird shady guy. I got the dog-boy.

As they got into position, Shino murmured, "Hinata-san, my friends have been sensing fear from you for a while. Are you prepared to fight?"

Hinata shook her head.

"Then be prepared to run." Surreptitiously he passed her their scroll. "Keep this away from them. You can do that, right?"

"…Y-yes…"

Suddenly Samui, who had been secretly been performing hand-seals behind her back, called out, "Raiton: Jou Raikou no Jutsu!" (Lightning Release: Imperial Lightning Flash Technique) The forest around them vanished in an unannounced, all-consuming flash of light. Everyone cried out in pain and covered their eyes, trying to block out the blast.

Before all of the confusion, Samui had noticed the boy in the coat giving the Hyuuga girl their scroll. Now, having blinded everyone else, she ran forward and grabbed Hinata's wrist. What she hadn't counted on, however, was the fact that the pale-eyed girl was extremely panicky at the moment.

When an unknown hand grabbed her, all rational thought fled her mind. All she could think about was that night. The moon obscured by clouds. The headband. The man's sneering face. The words. Terror. Fear. Helplessness.

"No!" She screamed and lashed out as hard as she could, accidentally punching the Kumo-nin in the face and blasting chakra in all directions. Caught off guard, Samui stumbled away, losing her grip. In that instant the blue-nette vanished into the trees, blindly running as fast as she could away from the conflict.

"Ugh, not cool," The busty blond muttered to herself, giving chase. She would leave the girl's teammates to her own.

.

Hinata kept running. Her vision had, by this time, started to clear enough so she could stop running into trees and keep away from them. For that was the only thought on her mind; escape those people, lest they try to take her away again. She would rather die than, than go through the things that man had said they'd do to her! Her foot caught a tree root and she stumbled badly, spraining her ankle. She tried to keep going, but now her foot wouldn't support her weight enough to run. She hobbled as quickly as she could, hearing Samui behind her.

"Raiton: Jou Hekireki no Jutsu!" (Lightning Release: Imperial Thunderclap Technique)

To the fear-addled Hyuuga, the sound of the air splitting was akin to being stabbed from behind. The sudden, booming crack sounded so close and suddenly menacing that her body abruptly locked up in terror.

A second later Samui caught up to the girl and found her lying on the ground in the fetal position, eyes glassy and shaking as she moaned in pain and fright. Blood was trickling from her ears, where the thunderclap had burst her eardrums. "Hah…" she sighed, rubbing her bruised cheek, "It would've been much cooler for you if you'd just given me the scroll." She knelt by the smaller girl. "Oh boy, the scroll's locked up tight," she mumbled, seeing how Hinata's limbs were clamped tight over her body defensively, blocking access to the pocket which held the scroll, "Let's just get at that, mm?" However, even as she took Hinata's wrists with her own slender hands, the girl suddenly came back to her senses and scrambled away, kicking Samui in the side in the process. "Ouch! Stop that," Samui snapped, frustrated.

However, having been deafened by the blond Kumo-nin's jutsu, Hinata did not answer. She only scuttled away, face pale with fear and pain, dragging her injured leg after her and staring back at Samui with terror in her moon-like eyes.

"This is seriously uncool," Samui said, more to herself than to Hinata, "What are you so scared of? Huh?" Hinata only tried to hide behind the base of a tree, cowering at its roots. Groaning, the large-breasted woman walked deliberately to where she lay and crouched down, looking Hinata dead in the eye. As she did, for the first time she was able to see and appreciate the deep-seated fear in those milky orbs. She repeated her question, but this time sincerely. "What are you so afraid of?"

Hinata said nothing but stared at the icy blue eyes. For a moment, she was reminded of Naruto's eyes. The thought of the boy she loved seemed to relax a fraction of the tension in her body. Finally, shakily, she raised a slim finger and pointed at the other girl's hitai-ate, which was tied to her arm.

Frowning, Samui followed the pointing finger. After a moment, she leaned forward, pressing the side of her fist to the Hyuuga's forehead and putting her own head on the other side. "I don't get it," she said, transmitting the vibrations through her hand.

Hinata stiffened at the physical contact, but after a minute, she said, haltingly and semi-loudly, "Kumo…almost…stole me."

The blond blinked and sat back. "Kumo…" she murmured, "Why would you be scared of-" she stopped dead, feeling suddenly cold. "Oh. No. You were the one from eight years ago. The one who was almost kidnapped by the diplomat on Raikage-sama's orders." While Samui was a loyal Kumo-nin, there were just some of the Raikage's decisions that, as a person, she just couldn't agree with. Of course, as a Genin, her opinions mattered very little. "But then," for the first time, Samui stammered, things starting to line up in her head, "Eight years ago you would've been…how old?!"

For the past while, Hinata had been able to tell what the woman (she didn't want to think of her as a Kumo-nin) was saying by reading her lips. In answer to the question, she timidly raised four fingers.

Samui felt sick. "Raikage-sama…tried to abduct such a young child!" she gasped, "That's, that's…" For a moment, her loyalty to such a person wavered. She couldn't even use her signature 'un-cool' phrase, that's how mortified she was.

Curious, Hinata inched forward. Samui's shoulders were shaking, and she looked as pale as Hinata herself. Tentatively, she tapped the foreign ninja on the shoulder, intending to ask what was wrong.

Much to her shock, Samui suddenly threw her arms around the smaller girl and pulled her into a crushing hug, making her squeak with surprise and fright. The busty Kumo-nin was actually crying as she embraced the tiny girl. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, "I'm so sorry you had to go through something like that because of us."

Hinata couldn't read Samui's lips, since her position left the Hyuuga unable to see her mouth, but that didn't matter. To go from running in fear to suddenly being hugged by a complete stranger (an enemy stranger, no less) was a huge shock. The emotions that Hinata's fear had kept at bay for the past while finally came to the surface. She cried all over Samui's shoulder, surprising the older woman with volume of her bawling as she slumped into the hug, shaking with fright-induced, hysterical tears.

Five minutes later, Hinata fell asleep, leaving Samui with a sudden dilemma. It'd be cool if we could have both scrolls, she thought, But…should I take it? Should I take advantage of this girl, who just fell asleep from crying on me? She's an enemy in these exams, right? Gently, trying not to wake her, Samui lifted Hinata away from her. Her round, tear-streaked face looked peaceful in sleep. Thinking back, Samui remembered how the girl had acted in the First Test. Karui was right, in a way. The Hyuuga were known for being fearless in their pride. Why would one of their members (their heiress, in fact), want to back down? Perhaps Kumo isn't the only thing to make her suffer, she thought.

Hinata stirred and opened her eyes for a moment. "Naruto…kun?" she asked blearily.

In an out of character moment, Samui felt like crying herself at the love in the girl's voice; more love than a girl her age should be capable of. I'm not Naruto, though, she thought as Hinata went back to sleep, I'm Samui.

[Later]

The two teams stood once more across from each other. Karui and Omoi were rather sluggish from Shino's Kikai feasting on their chakra. Hinata stood with her own team, in shock. After waking up, Samui had actually healed her ears and ankle before taking her back to the others. But that wasn't the most surprising part…

"So this was a total waste of time," groaned Karui, who bore numerous scratches from Kiba and Akamaru, "You guys have an Earth Scroll like us. You still wanna fight?"

Shino and Kiba both looked at each other in confusion, but Hinata said in a small voice, "I think we should just move on."

Kiba looked at her in consternation, but Shino understood and nodded. "Very well."

As they parted ways, Kiba whispered, "But why did they say we have the same thing? Ours is a Heaven Scroll!"

Hinata merely shook her head and refused to say anything more until they reached the tower.

(Flashback end)

Naruto was stunned. "She lied to her team," he said in surprise, "That's…"

His girlfriend nodded into his chest, still not looking at him. "…I couldn't do anything," she said miserably, "If S-Samui-san hadn't taken pity on me, I would have failed my team and been a burden on them. I was…" her fists balled up, "I was so useless! I thought I got stronger, but one look at a team of K-Kumo-nin and I could only run away! I hate it! I hate being a coward! I wanted to be- to be brave like you-!"

Her impassioned self-anger was cut off by Naruto as he kissed her firmly on the lips. She let out a muffled sound surprise, only to moan as he stuck his tongue into her mouth, massaging the sides, bottom and top of her own tongue. She felt herself going weak in the knees as he finally pulled back.

"You're not a coward," he said to her flatly, "When we first started hanging out, you always said you could never get better. But you did. Just now, you said that you thought you'd gotten stronger, that you wanted to be stronger. Would the old Hinata have said that? I want to say yes, but I don't know."

"Naruto-kun…" Hinata whispered. She backed away, confusing him for a second, then charged forward and rammed into him, knocking him backward with a squawk of surprise until he hit the bed.

Before Naruto could sit up, the blue-haired girl pounced on him, straddling his waist with her hands pinning his shoulders to the mattress. "Ah, Hinata, what-!" He broke off, seeing the fire in her pale lavender eyes.

"I love you," she said, her breathy voice coming out inadvertently sultry, "So much." She lowered herself onto his body, wrapping her arms around the back of his head and pulled him into another kiss; this time both of them used their tongues, trying to overcome the other.

For Naruto, the feeling of Hinata's petite, curvy body pressing into him was amazing; her round, full breasts squished against his chest and his hands, which were still free, wandered down to grip her firm butt. She squeaked into his mouth as he squeezed and he grinned internally, before suddenly rolling them over and breaking the kiss. "I love you too," he murmured into her ear, licking her neck just under the lobe.

The Hyuuga heiress shuddered and let out a slight mewl of pleasure. Not for the first time, she was thankful that Kunoichi (and female Hyuuga in particular) developed so early in their lives, if it meant being able to feel like this.

After a moment, though, he rolled off her, flushed with arousal and embarrassment. "We probably shouldn't," he muttered, "Shinobi or not, we're twelve to thirteen. Kinda young to be doin' stuff like this..."

In a flash Hinata was on top of him again, scowling down at him. "I don't care," she said, blushing slightly, "You don't get to do th-that and stop halfway!"

Blinking, he chuckled and leaned up to kiss her on the nose. "Alright, alright, sorry for winding you up! Still, you're not feelin' so miserable now, are you?"

She paused at that. It was true that the doubt that had been plaguing her thoughts for the past few hours had all but evaporated. She sighed. "You...you just won't let me be unhappy, will you?" she asked, smiling slightly.

"Not while I can do something about it," Naruto replied, grinning. He was being serious, though. "Now, you mind getting off? I'm pretty hungry."

"G-get off?" she asked, suddenly scarlet.

He quirked an eyebrow at her for a moment, then rolled his eyes. "I'm wondering which of us is really the perverted one here," he muttered. He gave her a light slap on the rump, "Go on, get." Still slightly red, she let him up. As he walked to the door, Naruto glanced back at her. "And Hinata...before you start getting all gloomy about losing, I want you to remember something," he turned to face her, jabbing himself with his thumb, "Do you think I've gotten stronger, compared to back in the academy?"

"Yes!" said Hinata instantly.

Naruto laughed at the firm certainty with which she answered. "Yeah, exactly. But," his face became seriously, "While I can definitely do more than before...I've still lost a lot of important fights. When I fought Haku-chan on the bridge, I probably might have died if it weren't for you. Then, when I fought Nord immediately afterward, I was so...so angry I couldn't think straight and he beat the crap out of me. It's only because he was merciful that he didn't kill me or finish you off. And then..." He gave a hard smile. "Oh yeah, I didn't tell you. My team ran into Orochimaru of the Sannin." She gasped in horror. "Yeah," he agreed, "That bad. Any attack I landed on him was either wasted on a clone, a Kawarimi, or just rendered useless. He put two seals on me to seal off Kina-chan's and my chakra, though Jiji already had those removed. So, that's another big loss for me, though I did manage to piss him off with the fact that I kept getting back up." He strolled out the door, with the dark blue-haired girl following and falling into step beside him. "So, Hinata-chan...next time you feel like you just can't win, just remember: I'm no better off than you, even if I've gotten stronger. So, don't let defeat set you back."

"I-I see," Hinata murmured thoughtfully. For a moment, they were both silent as they walked towards the cafeteria. "But Naruto-kun," she suddenly pointed out, "You've still done great things. If it weren't for you, I probably would have d-dropped out of the first test. No, listen!" she said, surprising even herself with her vehemence, "I'm not...I'm not brave like you. If I were faced with that choice on my own, I would have folded." She blushed and looked away at her odd brand of self-confidence, taking a tray. "B-but anyway, w-we're talking about you. In the second test, you might have lost to O-O-Orochimaru, but before that you punched Gaara-san." Naruto blinked at her in confusion as they went to get their food. "Before you came along, we had to watch as he singlehandedly killed an entire team without getting a scratch on him. His sand shield was too strong for their attacks to penetrate, but you punched straight through it! It was incredible. I saw how strong he was, and you made him run away."

"Is that really how it was?" Naruto muttered, taking an orange and some grapes, "Man...No wonder that girl kissed me. She must be afraid of him too. Ah, sorry!" he said quickly, realizing how it would sound to his girlfriend.

However, Hinata merely sighed and shook her head. "Naruto-kun, I'm n-not going to get mad because of that. I know how you'll probably be put under the CRA. To tell the truth I don't...really enjoy the prospect, but I won't complain."

The blond sighed as well and gave her shoulder a squeeze. In this situation, though, he couldn't think of anything prudent to say, so he remained silent.

They took a moment to collect some sustenance before settling at a table to eat, which they did in silence.

"Hmph. Seems someone had the same idea as us," droned a bored voice. They looked around to see Nara Shikamaru and his team with food trays of their own, "Mendokuse...mind if we sit here?"

Naruto only shrugged, while Hinata said in a small voice, "N-no, it's fine."

They sat down and ate. There was an awkward silence for a few moments.

"So..." Ino began slowly, glancing between the two of them, "Hinata, you finally caught Naruto? How'd you get through that thick skull of his, and when?"

The dark haired girl blushed and looked down, smiling slightly. "E-eto..."

"On my team's first C-rank mission," said Naruto shortly. He really didn't want to be telling the gossipy blond anything, but he knew that once her curiosity was aroused, she would dog them until she dragged an answer out of them, "My team ran into some trouble, so Hina-chan's team got called in to help. A little bit later, I got into some trouble in the fight and she took a hit for me. She confessed to me before falling unconscious."

"Hmph," grumbled the other blond, "The way you say it takes all the romance out of it."

Naruto's mismatched eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Considering that I thought she died, it was less romantic and more heartbreaking at the time. And frankly, I'd rather not tell the girl with the biggest mouth in our class things that don't concern her."

A vein throbbed on Ino's temple. "Who the hell are you calling a loud-mouth?!" she yelled at him.

Naruto only dug at his ear, looking rather unconcerned. "I'm hoping that was a rhetorical question, 'cause otherwise..." he shrugged, smirking, "Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer."

She reddened and opened her mouth to snap back, but Shikamaru groaned, "Leave it, Ino. So troublesome...just when I thought you quieted down, you went and got a smarter mouth, Naruto."

"Heh." Naruto smirked, but Hinata laid a hand on his arm.

"I'm...sorry if he seems rude," she said softly, smiling gently at Ino, "But the, um…circumstances of us getting t-together," she blushed at the thought, "Are sort of private."

Ino blinked, taken aback. While she and the Hyuuga Heiress had never spoken to each other directly, she knew of Hinata's crippling shyness. Had her relationship with Naruto made her bolder, even a little? Then she registered what she'd said. "Are you saying I can't keep a secret?" she asked testily.

Naruto leaned forward, chin on his hand, and deadpanned at her, "Considering you're known for doing the exact opposite, I'd say not."

Ino reddened again, glowering, while Choji chuckled into his food.

"Naruto-kun, be nice!" Hinata said reprovingly, though still gently.

"Haai," he sighed. Even as he went back to his food, however, the corner of his mouth twitched slightly, showing that he wasn't as bothered as he indicated.

It was with a feeling of confusion that the Team 10 members went back to their food. Shikamaru, though, continued to observe Naruto with narrowed eyes. What was it, exactly, that had changed his fellow dead-last so drastically? Somehow, the Nara doubted that getting a girlfriend would inspire such a change. Plus that change in his eyes, not just in color but also the emotion behind them.

Seeing as he had so little on his tray to begin with, Naruto was the first to finish and leave, giving Hinata a small kiss on the cheek as he left.

Watching him go, Ino sighed. "Well, he might be rude, but it seems like you got a nice catch, Hinata."

The blue-haired girl blushed and smiled wistfully. "Y-you think so, Ino-san?"

"Of course! I wouldn't have said so otherwise. Careful, though," a mischievous look crossed her face, "Some other girl might try to snatch him away if you're not careful."

Instead of growing nervous or sputtering denials like she expected, though, Hinata only sighed, seemingly resigned or slightly saddened about something. "That's…less of a problem than you'd think."

Ino blinked in shock at this reaction, but Shikamaru muttered, "Mendokuse…" when she looked askance at him, he elaborated, "It seems that Naruto's got some sort of rare Kekkei Genkai, which would make him fall under the CRA."

"Ah...yes," Hinata acknowledged, stunned by how quickly Shikamaru had figured it out. He's lazy, but…he's smarter than he looks at a glance. I wonder how Naruto considers intelligence.

"Eh?! A bloodline?" asked the blonde, eyes wide. After a moment, she frowned and sat back, eyes shut. "Wait…what's the CRA again? I could've sworn I heard Dad talk about it…"

Quietly, the blue-haired girl said, "It's a law that states that…if there is a clan with a bloodline that's on the verge of dying out, at least one of the males must take on multiple wives to help repopulate the clan."

Ino paled. "You mean…like Sasuke-kun?"

Hinata couldn't help but deadpan at her. Even now she had to bring up the Uchiha. "…Yes, I suppose so. Although, Naruto-kun's bloodline is…one that might be particularly dangerous in large numbers, according to him. However, the properties of that bloodline make it so that the council will want him under the CRA no matter what."

"And those are?" asked Shikamaru, eyes narrowed in either tiredness or suspicion.

But she only shook her head and said, "That's not for me to say."

(With Naruto)

The heterochromic blond sneezed again. "Damn, Hinata-chan must be raving about me," he muttered, chuckling to himself.

"Well, it's not like you could blame her," said an amused voice, "You're very…rave-able."

Jumping, Naruto turned to see Alex walking towards. "Hey Alex," he greeted, "Where've you been?"

The Elder Blacklight only shrugged. "Oh, you know, just reconnecting with the people."

"Council meeting?"

"Eh, I'm putting that off until you finish your next Test."

The blond smirked at his 'mentor,' then frowned darkly. "You knew that Orochimaru would show up, didn't you?"

A grimace briefly appeared on Alex's face before it went neutral. "I wonder…"

"That saying only works if you can keep a straight face," snapped Naruto, "Kina went through a lot of pain because of that bastard, and Sasuke got some sort of weird mark."

"That would have happened regardless," Alex replied calmly, "Frankly, the chance of you avoiding that encounter was highly low, as well as avoiding that ending."

Naruto's mismatched eyes narrowed irritably. "Even as a Blacklight?"

The brown-haired man nodded. "Yeah. Orochimaru is a Sannin who excels in running away from death and you're a Genin, Blacklight or not. Besides, you lived, didn't you? Jiraiya already took care of those seals."

"Well, that's true," sighed the blond, pulling at his hood absently. A moment of silence. "…Though I can't help but wonder how you know that. By the way, that Ero-Sennin was your sensei, right?"

"Heh, yeah," Alex chuckled, "And yes, he was always like that. Drove us nuts when we were his students."

Ah. Right. Alex had been teammates with Naruto's own parents. He hardly ever talked about them, so it was easy to forget… "Hey Alex...some time, we really need to talk about them."

"The man's face became more somber. "Yeah. Sorry to keep avoiding the subject. Let's try for, say, after the next Test?"

"Mm. Sure." They resumed walking, having no destination in mind. "So, will this talk be before or after that Council meeting?"

"Oh, definitely after."

"Ah, c'mon!"

Alex only snorted and kept walking. "So, what're your impressions on those Ma-Ni-nin?"

"The Gormim, you mean?" Naruto asked rhetorically, "I didn't really get to see any of them in action but apparently that green-haired one, Carlos, kicked Sasuke's ass hard."

"Not surprised. Nine times out of ten, if a Gorem fights anyone else, I'd bet on the Gorem."

The blond glanced at the Elder Blacklight with a raised eyebrow. "A completely unbiased opinion, I'm sure."

Alex rolled his eyes. "Look kid, we're a group of universe-hopping immortals who collect powers as we go. Granted, we're not the only one, but still. Losing is much harder than it used to be."

Admittedly, Naruto couldn't find any flaw in that statement, so he said nothing in response. He did notice the mention that the Gormim were not the only group, but chose to leave that alone.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before they reached his room. "How's Kina?" Alex asked.

"Fine. Seems kinda fidgety all alone in my head. And by kinda, I mean she won't stop moving around."

"What sort of Jinchuuriki are you, leaving your Bijuu unattended?" he demanded jokingly.

Naruto snorted. "What sort of tenant are you, walking out on your roommate and not coming back?"

"Er…touché," muttered the Blacklight, before vanishing in a wisp of black mist, back into the seal on his junior's stomach.

With another snort, Naruto went inside. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

(Meanwhile, with Hinata)

The Hyuuga heiress, unlike her boyfriend, wasn't feeling very amused at the moment. On the contrary, as she stood facing the Kumo-nin Samui, Hinata felt decidedly ill. While the crippling terror from before was now slightly reduced, she still did not want to be there right now. Still, she had to say her piece. "U-um…" she mumbled.

Samui just gave the inky-haired girl a blank look. "What? Spit it out, will you?"

Hinata flinched and looked down. "Um…I-I just wanted to th-thank you for…for the other day. That-that's it. Thank you."

The busty blond raised an eyebrow, surprised. For some reason, even after her actions in the forest, Samui just couldn't imagine that a Konoha-nin would ever thank her for something. Yet here was this girl, doing just that. "Ah…no, that's cool, you don't have to thank me. I mean, technically we're still enemies here."

Hinata seemed to wilt slightly at these words, causing Samui to almost immediately regret saying those words. "Then why did you spare me?" she asked quietly, "If we're enemies, why did you not take the scroll from me and, and-" She stopped, shivering and pale.

The blond sighed and shook her head. To be truthful, even she wasn't sure why she hadn't just stolen the scroll while the girl slept. Slept after crying her eyes out on Samui's shoulder. Right. Like that wouldn't have haunted her for a long time after. But how could she say that without sounding like she'd just taken pity on her? Although that was what happened… Finally she said, "Because my name's 'Samui,' not 'Tsumetai.'"

"Eh?" Hinata cocked her head, taken aback and confused. But Samui abruptly turned her back and walked swiftly away. The Hyuuga noticed that the back of her neck was turning red as she went. Then the meaning of her words suddenly registered to her and she face-palmed. "Th-that was a very bad joke," she mumbled, partly to herself.

However, Samui still heard her and her normally stoic face flushed darker in embarrassment.

(Timeskip: a few days later)

As the week of the Second Test came to a close, a voice suddenly sounded throughout the tower, making everyone look up. "At this time, the Second Test of the Chunin Exams has ended. All teams who have passed, please go to the entrance room to be taken to the area of the next Test."

Naruto, who was lying on his bed, sat up with a grin. "About time! Let's get to it."

As he stood up, he felt a shift in his mindscape. With that as his only warning, Alex materialized in the room. "I need to go on ahead," he said abruptly, "I'm proctoring this next one. Keep your wits sharp, Naruto."

Alex was the next proctor? Somehow, that made sense to the blond. As the older man exited the room and vanished from sight, Naruto mused to himself, That settles it. The next Test is definitely gonna be for fighting. He grinned widely to himself. Can't wait.

He too crossed to the door and left.

At the entrance room of the tower, he encountered Sakura and Sasuke, and they of course stuck together in their group, as did all the other Shinobi.

Once everybody had gathered, the giant scroll with the cryptic poem about Heaven and Earth swung open, revealing a long dark tunnel. Behind the hidden door was Anko, arms crossed and looking impatient. "Hurry up, you lot!" she called, turning and walking down the corridor, "We haven't got all day!"

With some trepidation, they all followed her.

After around ten minutes of walking, they emerged into a large, well lit rectangular room. Along each of the longer walls was a sturdy balcony. At one end was an enormous statue in the shape of a pair of hands performing a seal. In the center of this room stood the Sandaime Hokage and Alex Mercer, both of whom were looking expectantly at the assembled Genin. Along the edges of the room were various Jonin sensei, although only a few of them were from Konoha. With a start, Naruto recognized Nord Baro leaning against a wall, idly playing with his scarf. The older blond caught his eye and waved cheerily at him. He shuddered, then noticed that Kurenai was also in the room, glaring darkly at Nord. It seemed that she still hadn't forgotten how the Gorem had completely outclassed her in Genjutsu.

As everyone lined up in formation, Sarutobi stepped forward and cleared his throat. "To those of you gathered here, I would like to congratulate you on getting this far in the Chunin Exams. You have proven that you can gather information discreetly, make important decisions, and that you can survive in hostile territory. For this final test, will have to prove how well you can act in a combat situation."

Alex stepped forward. "My name is Alex Mercer," he told them, pointedly ignoring the odd looks at his name, "I'll be the Proctor for the Third Test. Like Hokage-sama just said, it will be a rather straightforward series of one-on-one battles between all you Genin, using everything in your arsenal to win. What Hokage-sama did not mention, however, is that the actual Third Test will take place in one month's time. What we're doing right now is a Preliminary exam. Also, all Genin Teams are hereby dissolved for the purposes of this exam."

There was an uproar as everyone started talking all at once. The brown-haired man groaned quietly as the sound level rose sharply, before he suddenly flared his Killing Intent, shutting them up. "Listen up: I don't like repeating myself!" he barked at the assembled Genin, "The fact of the matter is, too many of you passed the first two Tests. Because some people are wondering if those were too easy, these Preliminaries will be used to weed the out those who will be allowed to fight in front of all the Daimyo and Kage, who will be arriving in one month to observe the event."

Quite a few faces became shocked at this news. They would be fighting in front of the Daimyo? But Alex continued. "Now, anyone who would like to drop out now, please raise your hand and state your intention to do so."

Surprisingly, one person did. "I'm out," said Yakushi Kabuto, looking regretful, "My team only just got out of the Forest, and I've not had enough time to recover."

"Yakushi Kabuto, right?" asked Alex, nodding, "Alright, you're free to go." As the silver-haired teenager turned to leave, Naruto briefly saw a downright grim look cross the Proctor's look, while at the same time he sensed a feeling of the deepest, most bloodthirsty excitement from Kabuto. What was going on here? "Anyone else want to leave?" Alex asked again. No one answered. "…Right, so here's how it'll work," he began. He pointed over his shoulder at an electronic board on the back wall, behind the statue. "That thing will pick two names at random from the twenty six people still here. Then, for those who are picked, you will fight until one of you surrenders or I declare you no longer able to fight. Once I call the winner, though, you will stop, got me?" He glared around at them, particularly at Gaara, who frowned back.

Finally, he sighed and took a step back. "Well then, let's begin, shall we?" he said quietly. He pointed at the board. "Roll it!"

AN: …At this point, I don't really think I can make excuses for how long I've taken for this one. It's not even a chapter where too much happens. Nevertheless, I now declare Chapter 27 of CoG: NOT to be complete. While I cannot promise not to take so long for the next chapter, I can only promise to try.

So, summary time!

1. So yeah, the chapter title's pretty long; sorry about that.
2. You ever have that feeling where you can't even remember sleeping? That's what Naruto is sort of experiencing.
3. What, you never think of Hinata in a towel? No? Your loss, then.
4. …And once again Hinata's insecurity issues rear their head. You guys might be getting tired of this, but it's not like it's gonna go away any time soon. That said, this is pretty much the last time it'll be so heavy.
5. Yeah, so as mentioned previously, Hinata has a serious phobia for Kumo-nin. Also, I'd like to thank Dei-chan for coming up with Jutsu for Samui.
6. Samui, despite all logic telling her that Hinata's the enemy, instead decides to comfort her in her terror, heal her ears and leave the scroll. Why? Because fuck realism, that's why. There is always room for kindness with a stranger, no matter who they are. Anyone who wants to dispute this scene can go [REDACTED].
7. Naruto reminds Hinata that, while he himself is stronger, he has also been getting his ass kicked quite a lot in this story. I assure you, though, this will be changing in the next 2-3 chapters.
8. Ino tries to be nosy, only for Naruto to rebuff her. While I don't have anything against Ino personally, I really don't like gossips.
9. Naruto meets up with Alex and they engage in small talk. This is where the chapter starts to become just a tad rushed; my apologies, but I just wanted to finish this.
10. Samui's joke is kind of untranslatable. 'Samui,' of course, means cold. However, it is used when referring to the weather. Tsumetai also means cold, as in cold to the touch. It is also used to refer to someone as 'coldhearted.' Get it?
11. Timeskip to the Third Test, because that's what we're all here for, right?
12. Surprise motherfuckers! Alex is the Proctor this time around.
13. And so the tournament begins…

On a slightly more unfortunate note, I have recently come to the decision to slightly decrease the size of the Harem. Again, I'm sorry, but I don't think I can keep track of what to do with who if I don't make the number smaller.

The Harem will now be:
Hinata (Blacklight)
Kina (Terme)
Samui (Lampe)
Temari (Baro)
Shukaku/Karura (Petra)
Fuu (Gloma)
Choumei (Baro)
Yugito (Lampe)
Matatabi (Terme)
Haku (Ghiaccio)
Kin (Din)
Tayuya (Din)
Mei (Souse)

Anko may end up paired with Alex

Oh yes! I have also come up with several Challenges:

Dresden Files X Fate/stay night crossover 1
Due to someone's latest attempt to summon an Outsider, the Heaven's Feel Ritual is inadvertently triggered in Dresden-verse. Obviously, Harry is made one of the Masters. Which Servant he summons is entirely up to you, as well as what Heroic Spirit they are. Try looking up the Create-a-Servant list on SpaceBattles for inspiration. I recommend starting the story after Grave Peril (Book 3). Pairings are up to you.

And of course, the reverse:

Dresden Files X Fate/stay night crossover 2
Harry Dresden gets summoned as Caster. This can take place in F/sn or F/Z. Please keep in mind that Harry does not have to be summoned by Uryuu/nameless Association Mage; you could make it so that Shirou summons him (they're both people who cannot say no to helping others), or Sakura (need I explain this?).

Anyways, that's all for now. Dunno what I'll be updating next, but it probably won't be this one. At least, not immediately. So as always, if you have any questions, please leave a Review or send me a PM. North South out.