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Chapter Text

“This is it,” Naruto muttered, arms swinging loose by his sides as they all looked at the Academy. “The Chunin Exams.”

Sakura had no shame in admitting she was slightly terrified. All of the jounin, Kakashi-sensei included, had shuddered when she had bought up the Exams, and the most information that she, Sasuke, and Naruto had been able to gather was this: the Exams were very dangerous, and, statistically speaking, were responsible for weeding out at least 40% of the genin population each year. There were usually three stages, but what comprised them changed annually, and the one thing Kakashi had told them was that there was a survival stage.

She’d come prepared, according to Sasuke Standards. (It hadn’t taken her and Naruto a long time to find out that Sasuke was, unsurprisingly, very nitpicky when it came to his weapons and equipment.) What that meant was that all of her kunai were sharpened to the point where they could draw blood, and she had at least four meters of wire and two packs of explosive tags. Her shuriken holster was rather heavy. It was a good thing, then, that Naruto had helped her seal away the ax that Kakashi-sensei had given her before.

Beside her, Sasuke exhaled. 

They all looked at each other, sharing the knowledge that the Exams could very well be a death trap or something similar. This is it. 

Naruto walked into the Academy first, followed by Sasuke and Sakura. 

The worst part of it all was that the Academy looked the same as it did when they had been children with no idea of what the real ninja world was like. It still had the same wooden doors to the classrooms - Sakura caught herself in the middle of her internal monologue. It’d only been a year, so why was she reminiscing about her old school like it was another era?

She didn’t get time to consider it anyway.

Naruto pointed out. “It’s room 103. The room Kakashi told us to report to.” He chortled. “We’re gonna become chunin, ‘ttebayo!”  He skipped into the room, but there was something … off about it. The genin that were talking to each other had dead eyes, and there was a distinct smell of … something  that didn’t belong to an Academy room.

Sakura couldn’t shake the feeling of deja vu because, for some reason, the room reminded her of Kakashi - more specifically, that one genjutsu he’d shown her of Sasuke dying way back when they all had first started out with him --

“Sasuke,” she whispered, grabbing his wrist instinctually. “It’s a genjutsu.”

He looked stricken for all of two seconds before his eyes flashed red and he was tugging Naruto back while Sakura tried to disrupt the genjutsu. She let her chakra ripple and roil, causing unease in the environment like Kakashi had taught her. “Kai,” she muttered, as the room’s surroundings around her - of people talking, and bright lights - fade away, until they were all standing in what was presumably the actual room - dusty and not illuminated. 

It was silent, and Sakura took a few steps back into the hall. 

The room tag read 100.

Sasuke, who had come to the same conclusion, started walking to their right. 

Three rooms down was presumably the actual room 103, and if nothing else, the amount of genin clustered around it was an indication - they had been covered up by the genjutsu, most likely. Sakura entered the crowd from the back, Sasuke and Naruto right behind her as they attempted to push through. Someone stepped on her toes and, while Sakura wasn’t surprised, it sure as hell didn’t mean that her toe hurt any less like a bitch. “ Fuck. ” she muttered as she put an arm out to push through the crowd. 

As soon as they were able to get through the crowd, a task which may have taken two or five minutes in its entirety, she took in the room, which she had only seen before a handful of times. 

It was bigger than most other rooms, with three-person tables taking up most of the space in it. There was a little room in the front, near the door, which Sakura suspected was for any teachers, chunin, or jounin that would walk in. But the windows - Kami, they were enormous, by far the biggest in any room in the Academy. The light was seeping into the room, coating every genin in it, and making them seem much more dangerous, in Sakura’s opinion. 

A chunin with a scar on his nose - not Kotetsu - passed her a ticket, with 17 printed on it. When she looked at it quizzically, the man explained in a bored voice, “Your seat number.”

Sakura nodded, and was scanning the aisles, looking for her seat number, while Sasuke was in a completely different row, and Naruto seemed to troop in with - was that Hinata ? She bumped into someone’s back, and opened her mouth to apologize, when - 

The boy turned around, and she recognized him as the boy who had accompanied Gaara when he effectively threatened to kill Sasuke. “Konoha,” he growled, the pinched purple markings around his eyes making him seem older than he was. His hand jerked toward his bandaged bundle reflexively, and Sakura reached for a kunai, instinct piloting her every move as Inner raged. He thinks he’s a threat, how dare he, how dare this brat -- 

“Suna,” she replied, ready to charge him right then and there. 

He opened his mouth to say something else, when the door to the room banged open and all the genin froze. 

Sakura turned her head to the left to see a huge, heavy man with impressive scars walk in, adjusting his headband as he did so. “Take your seats,” he rumbled as he stopped in the middle of the front of the classroom. She obeyed him, and frantically looked around for her seat - 17, 17 where are you - and found it next to a disgruntled-looking girl with a Taki headband, at the edge of the aisle. “My name is Morino Ibiki,” the man continued, “and,” he grinned here, showing all his teeth, and Sakura was reminded of Urazoshi-san,” and this is the first stage of the Chunin Exams.”

Chapter Text

The first stage of the Chunin Exams was, to say the least, lackluster. Ibiki-san had told them all that they had an hour to complete ten questions, and the tenth question would be given to them at the forty-five minute mark. Which meant that there were only nine questions Sakura needed to answer.

She flipped her paper over and looked at all of them.

The first few questions were anagrams, and she wrinkled her nose distastefully at the thought of the time it would take to answer them. The fifth question, however, was simple enough - only asking the basic Hokage genealogy and how that effectively contributed to Konoha’s economy. But … how would Sasuke and Naruto hold up with questions like these?

Sakura snuck a glance over, and sure enough, Sasuke looked impassive as usual, while Naruto had a pinched, stricken expression on his face as he flipped his paper over and groaned, putting his head in his hands. 

Shit. If one of us doesn’t pass, none of us will. Sakura gritted her teeth. Damn it, Naruto. She looked at the clock. There was a total of fifty-seven minutes remaining. Shit.

She started answering questions.

Around half an hour had passed when she had finished solving all but two code-anagram questions, and Sakura was confident enough in the rest of her answers. Now to help my stupid teammate. She snuck another glance back at Naruto, and sure enough, his head was in his hands. Sasuke, meanwhile, had his eyes flickering red, and was copying down answers, undoubtedly. 

There were now empty seats in the room, as genin had been called up to the front rather unceremoniously and been told to go home. Sakura didn’t want to be among the teams that were called to go home - but Naruto might have been stupid enough to not answer any test questions correctly.

If Sakura could get Naruto to notice her … and could somehow swap her paper with his and answer his questions herself or get him to copy down her answers … think, Sakura, think … 

She made sure no one was looking in her direction at the moment as she quietly snuck out ninja wire and a kunai. Out of the corner of her vision, she saw the Suna boy with the purple markings stand up, and then ask to use the bathroom.

So people are cheating on this.

She tore a small hole in her paper and looped the wire into it. What if this doesn’t work … She looped the other end of the wire and tied into a knot around the base of the kunai, and then Sakura folded up her paper into a kite, like she’d seen so many people do in her childhood, to get something to fly a long distance. 

Time to work.

Then Sakura lodged the kunai underneath her desk, and, gritting her teeth, aimed the paper-kite of her test two rows back. 

Kami, please work, please work, fuck …

Suna boy came back in, and one of the chunin at the door said something to him in a low voice, smirking as the boy paled. Was he caught cheating?

She snuck another glace out of the corner of her eye at Naruto, who had seen the paper-kite, which had, unfortunately, landed one row ahead of him. Fuck. Sakura cast her attention back to the front of the room, feeling the wire in her hands being tugged back slowly.

Another few minutes passed, during which Sakura suspected that Naruto was copying down answers. One of the chunin made eye contact with her, and then barked, “You! Get down here!”

She froze. I’ve been seen through. Shit. 

Sakura immediately pulled her paper back, tearing out the ninja wire and flattening her test on her desk, even as she began to stand up … 

The girl next to her sighed, stood up, and walked toward the chunin. Sakura exhaled. Thank Kami that wasn’t me.

However lucky she might have been, she wasn’t foolish enough to attempt that a second time. Sakura could only hope that Naruto had copied something down, because all that remained after this was one last question.

There were twenty-two minutes left, and Sakura waited seven of them out frantically, too worked up to solve anything else. 

At the forty-five minute mark exactly, Ibiki-san re-entered the room with a flourish. “This is your last question,” he boomed, crossing his arms. “But there’s a catch! If you take this question, and fail to answer it correctly, you will never be able to enter the Chunin Exams again!”

There was an audible gasp from some of the genin, and Ibiki grinned. “Speak now,” he proclaimed, “or forever hold your peace! You have exactly one minute to decide!”

Sakura wasn’t going to raise her hand. She knew even without looking at either of them, that neither Sasuke nor Naruto would choose to give up, and Sakura’s own nindo echoed the same thing - protect her teammates, and stand her own.

There were a few resigned glances, and quiet murmurings, as more than ten genin stood up and exited the room quietly. 

But then a loud yell interrupted the somber mood. “I ain’t gonna give up, ‘ttebayo! So what if we can’t take the Exams again? ‘M still gonna be Hokage!”

Sakura massaged her temples. What the fuck, Naruto.

She could feel Sasuke’s irritation.

Ibiki grinned, however. “Congratulations! The ones among you that are still sitting have passed the first stage. You all --”

Sakura gaped as someone came sailing in through the windows. It was a small woman with purple hair that shoved Ibiki-san to the side and unfurled a banner, sticking four kunai to every corner of the wall behind her, all in one motion. “I’m Anko!” she announced. “And I’m your proctor for the second stage!”

“Are you batshit crazy, Anko,” Ibiki-san groaned, and Sakura found herself wondering the same thing.

Anko flipped him off. “Shut up, Ibiki. Besides,” she surveyed the roomful of genin with distaste. “You leave too many for the second stage. I guarantee that only half of them will make it past the second.”

Sakura gulped. The dangerous part of the Exams, probably.

“We begin now!” the woman exclaimed as she went to open the door. You have fifteen minutes for a break, and then I’ll take you to the Forest of Death, because that’s where your next exam is!”

“Oh my Kami, Anko, shut up.

“... They weren’t supposed to know that yet, were they.”

All the chunin in the room groaned.

Chapter Text

The mere fifteen minutes they all got to prepare weren’t enough for Sakura to steel her nerves. It wasn’t enough time for anyone else, by the looks of it - Naruto was maybe the only one out of all the Konoha genin to appear unfazed, but even his hands were shaking a tiny bit.

“It’s in the … Forest of Death,” she heard Kiba say for the umpteenth time, looking slightly green, while Shino confirmed it with his usual dry voice.

All three new genin teams were clustered together, forming a tight group near the back of the classroom, but even seeing everyone else in the same boat as her didn’t help give her any reassurances. It was seeing Shikamaru vehemently whisper something to Ino and Choji, face grim, that must have made Sasuke do the same, however, because he grabbed Naruto by the back of his jacket and tapped her shoulder. 

“Listen,” he said, voice laced with urgency. “That crazy woman we just saw essentially told us this was the survival part of the Exams. In case we get separated - be careful. ” 

Sakura nodded. “Yeah. I’m counting on you guys to make it out safe.”

Naruto scoffed. “Of course we will, ‘ttebayo!” He laced his hands behind his head. “It’s not like a death trap or somethin’.”

Sakura met Sasuke’s glance. Gaara. Lee. Neji. Dosu. The Exams were filled with monsters - even Kakashi-sensei had told them to be wary of that. Irritated, she rubbed her knuckles over Naruto’s head. “There’s real scary people here, you idiot. We gotta be real careful, ‘cause for all the skills we know, there’s jutsu to counter it. And you remember what Kakashi-sensei told us -”

Everyone’s watching you. ”Naruto finished dutifully, rubbing his head.

“You have a minute left!” Anko’s voice boomed. “A minute and then we leave for the second stage, you infants!”

“She seems to be having a laugh about this,” Shikamaru muttered, scowling and crossing his arms. “What a drag, man.”

“You say that for everything!” Ino exclaimed.

Wordlessly, Sasuke tugged on her hand. Sakura looked at him. What’s he trying to show me?

He made a few hand gestures, rapidly, and then slowly, and Sakura tried to copy the hand signs. “Just in case you have to use it,” he said, face stricken. “Sakura, this --”

“Time’s up! Move it, you brats!”

Sakura screwed her eyes shut and tried to remember the signs she’d just been shown. Tiger. Snake. Rabbit. Tiger. Then - 

It was of no use. The second stage was gonna start soon. They would all have to go in the Forest of Death be stuck in there with monsters, with people that projected the same killing intent that Zabuza had, and so many of them were dangerous --

She flexed her hands, and followed Anko as all of the genin formed more or less of a line out the room. 

The Forest of Death was at a bit of a distance from the Academy, but Anko set off at a brisk pace that made her intent clear - she wanted to get this over with. Sakura exhaled. Remember what Kakashi taught you.

Doryuuheki. Ishi Panchi. 

Basic survival skills.

Inner is your insurance, your instinct, your ticket to survival, but control your bloodlust then.

Do not let this become Wave again.

Most importantly - Ino turned back to look at her for a second, looking like she wanted to say something, before she turned back around to face the front. Do whatever you have to do to stay alive and true to your nindo, and remember to protect your teammates. All of you, protect each other. You are Team Seven. Make yourselves the best of this generation.

Soon enough, they were in front of the forest. “Listen, brats,” Anko announced, cupping her hands around her mouth to be heard. “There are sixty of you: 5 teams from Konoha, 3 from Suna, 3 from Oto, 4 from Kiri, 2 from Taki, and 2 from Iwa, and 1 from Kumo. However, during this part of the Exams, you may not be put with your teams from the get-go. This stage is a two-week long survival exam, and the part of the Forest from where you enter will be different for everyone.” The genin groaned. 

We won’t be with our teams. Shit. 

“We’ve divided the forest into eight sections! You’ll stand in the groups I tell you to!”

Sakura tuned the rest of what Anko was saying out. We won’t be with our teams. She turned around to face Naruto and Sasuke, heart pounding. “Naruto, Sasuke, you need to --”

Naruto was pale. “Shit, shit, shit, shit,” he muttered. 

“Listen!” she yelled. Naruto froze. “Sasuke, if you’re with Naruto, make sure he isn’t an idiot. You hear that Naruto? Don’t be an idiot. And even if we’re in separate groups, meet up as soon as you can. Make a fire, or something.”

“We’re gonna stick out these two weeks,” Sasuke said, determination in his voice. 

“Uzumaki Naruto! Group Two!”

He paled even more, if that was possible. 

As Anko sorted them into their groups, Sakura took note of who was in hers. They had all been separated into groups of six or seven people, and each group was a good 500 or 600 meters from the next. That  distance gave easily enough time for someone to kill someone else in their group.

Fuck.  

2 people from Kiri, 1 from Oto, someone from … is that Taki? Oh Kami, Gaara is in this group… 

“Nara Shikamaru, 7!”

She exhaled in relief. Thank Kami she wasn’t the only one from Konoha. As Shikamaru neared her, jogging, he whispered, “Sakura! Man. This really is a drag.”

She nodded. “You see the boy with the sand gourd strapped to his back?” she asked, trying to keep her voice as low as she could and her expression as neutral as possible. “He’s terrifying. I could sense his killing intent since the test stage. Plus, he basically gave me, Sasuke, and Naruto a death threat before the Exams started.”

“... Well, shit, man.”

Two weeks. Stay alive in this Forest for two weeks - 

Sakura stiffened and pressed her right hand on the seal on her elbow. Her hatchet appeared in her hand in a puff of smoke. Next to her, Shikamaru had similarly pulled out a kunai, ready to bolt for the forest the second Anko said…

“The second stage starts now! Good luck, brats!”

Chapter Text

It should have been obvious from the start that the Kiri genin would try to attack Sakura. To be fair, she was wearing Haku’s headband around her throat, and it was only natural that they would assume it was the headband of someone who was not, in fact, a missing-nin. What couldn’t have been predicted, however, was the speed with which they did so.

As soon as Anko had pronounced the start of the second stage, Sakura and Shikamaru had began to run towards the Forest of Death as fast as their feet would carry them. She’d seen a kunai whistle by her shoulder, narrowly missing her by a few millimeters on the right, and, wide-eyed, she turned around.

Both of the Kiri genin were running at her. One of them had his hands outstretched, undoubtedly aiming to strangle or choke her into submission, and the other one had a kunai between his teeth and one in each hand. Shit. They either want to hurt me really bad or they want to kill me. Shit.

“Sakura!” Shikamaru exclaimed, and that jarred her into action. 

The Kiri genin were undoubtedly aiming to subdue her, and they would most likely be able to find her in the Forest in the future - after all, they had two weeks. So we either decide it here or not at all. If she was able to terrify them enough to the point where they wouldn’t chase her, however …

Well. That was a different matter.

There was another kunai aimed at her from the genin with spiky hair, and Sakura let it come, continuing to go a few feet into the forest. Just a bit closer … 

Both of them ran at her, and Sakura was aware of Shikamaru tensing up, though she wasn’t sure whether it was with the intention of hiding or fighting. One of the genin rushed her point-blank, kunai out in both hands, aiming for her shoulder or torso - be careful, be careful - and she waited for a second, a breath, before bringing her hatchet down hard to deflect one of the kunai. There was a familiar noise of metal-on-metal next to her - probably Shikamaru - the boy in front of her bought the kunai in his right hand up, aiming straight for her -

Sakura twisted her hatchet like she’d seen Kakashi do with his kunai before, using it as a stand to kick off of before her left foot was on the shoulder of the genin, and bought the butt of her hatchet down before she slipped - 

The genin caught it in the palm of his hand, and her heart dropped. Fuck, fuck, fuck. She tugged back on it with her right hand, left hand blindly pulling out a shuriken, and she tried to remember a kata Kakashi had taught her and Naruto once - 

If you’re ever on top of someone you’re fighting, get your left arm around their throat if possible if you want to subdue them, like this - 

Gritting her teeth, Sakura dug the shuriken into the boy’s shoulder, making him howl in pain and loosen his grip on her hatchet. She yanked it out of his grasp and re-oriented herself as they both began to fall to the ground, wrapping her legs around his shoulders. 

They hit the ground, then, and it was a scrabble for a few seconds, with both of them terrified, desperate to get some sort of hold over the other - the boy was faster. He cut fast and hard on her arm twice, leaving deep gashes on her right arm, and Sakura yelled as she forced herself to fight past the searing pain that was beginning to come. She pulled herself up to her knees as the boy stood up - 

Kakashi’s voice was now coaching her through a different scenario - 

Get them to the ground. Right foot out, and roundhouse kick with your left foot to their side - 

Sakura kicked hard and fast, dropping back to the ground, as the boy clutched his side. She got back up as fast as she could, right arm trembling as she dropped her hatchet at her feet  and pulled out a kunai - 

They’ll disbalance a little to the right, use that and go in for a tackle - 

She didn’t go for a tackle. Instead, as one of his hands clutched at his side and he raised his kunai, she suckerpunched him, hard enough to feel it reverberate in her left hand. “You fucker, ” she whispered, raising her kunai up - 

And then, make sure they stay down -

“Sakura!” She whipped her head around, seeing Shikamaru call out to her, a few meters away, lurking near another huge grove of brush. “Come on!”

She kicked the boy in the crotch, watching as he crumpled, and she ran towards Shikamaru. 

“What a bother,” he muttered. “Why were they after you, anyway?” 

“That …” she began to answer, then watched as his eyes darted down to her throat and then away, putting two and two together. “Yeah. Do you know where Ino and Choji are?”

“I told them to meet up near the center of the forest, because there wouldn’t be too many people coming that way,” he answered, scanning the forest as he did so. 

Meeting up … where are Sasuke and Naruto?

“We should find Sasuke and Naruto, then,” Sakura began,” because they probably aren’t too far away - “ A huge blast of … well, something, interrupted her, and she watched as an explosion knocked over several trees on her right, setting a huge portion of the brush on fire. She acted immediately, turning away from the fire, meeting Shikamaru’s wide eyes. 

They didn’t have to speak to draw the conclusion that whoever was responsible for the explosion was not someone either of them wanted to confront. Particularly in a forest. Particularly in a survival challenge. 

Sakura exhaled. Two weeks. 

She needed to find Naruto and Sasuke.

The two of them ran nonstop for about ten more minutes, in complete silence, when Shikamaru suddenly stopped. “Running around will just be a bother, man. And if we don’t run, someone will probably track us down and we’ll have to fight. How troublesome.”

Sakura nodded. “We need to find the rest of our team as soon as we can, but …. with the explosion, there’s no saying that they wouldn’t have run in the opposite direction that we did - away from it.”

Shikamaru groaned, sitting down. “ Troublesome.”