Prove the Pervert Wrong

Chapter Nine: The Sand, A Stone, And Some Leaves

Disclaimer: I didn't own Naruto when I wrote the last eight chapters, and I don't own it now. Please, resist the urge to cry.




Pre-Chapter A/N: Hey all, I just want to apologize ahead of time if this chapter isn't up to your expectations. That's not to say that I don't like it, or that you won't like it, but some personal stuff came up that might have affected my ability to write. My sister was in the hospital with a nearly-fatal potassium shortage, and it was affecting her ability to think correctly… You probably understand that it's bad from just that, so I'll spare you the details. She's fine now, though, so don't worry about it.

Anyway, while I'm perfectly comfortable with the way this chapter turned out, I figured I should give an explanation in case it's of lowered quality and I'm just not noticing. I haven't noticed any changes in myself, but this has to be affecting me…

With that out of the way, I give you chapter nine!

"Oh, Kaen, you're still here! I'm glad I was able to catch you before you left!"

"What do you want?" The glare that Kaen gave his father was among the coldest the jounin had ever received, but he just responded with a warm smile.

"I wanted to wish you luck!"

"'Luck…'" Kaen let out a cold, harsh laugh. "Luck is an imaginary force created by fools and weaklings to make them feel as though they have the potential to succeed. I have no need for this 'luck,' or anything else that you can offer me. If that's all you had to say, I have a fight to be getting to." Without even waiting for a response, Kaen left his father alone in the room.

"Do your best…"

"Anko-chan?" Anko was waiting with a grin just outside the stadium, which made Naruto slightly nervous. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm just here to tell you to win."

"You're… wishing me luck?"

"'Luck?'" Anko's grin faltered for a moment before returning even larger than before. "I never said anything about luck. Luck is for weaklings. You're the strongest one in the competition, with the possible exception of that Gaara guy, so I'm saying that you'd better win. Or else."

"Or else what?" The way she licked her lips told him exactly what she was going to say, but she still took great pleasure in saying it.

"I'll kill you myself!" Naruto sweat-dropped, wondering when she was going to come up with some new material. "Seriously though, people know you've been training with me, so I'll look bad if you don't win."

"Don't worry about it! I'm not gonna lose to anyone!"

"See that you don't." She turned to go inside, but stopped on remembering that she had one last thing to say. "Oh, almost forgot… That Kaen guy's a real asshole. Make sure he loses a lot of blood, 'kay?"

Anko was gone before Naruto had a chance to reply, but he couldn't help but grin at the thought. He was somewhat disgusted with himself for grinning at the thought of someone losing a copious amount of blood, but that didn't make the grin dissipate. As he entered the field on which the fights were to take place, Lee, Neji, Ino, and Sakura all waved at him. Hinata was too shy to wave, opting instead to simply push her index fingers together while blushing and looking at the ground, and Gaara simply nodded. Naruto was the last entrant to arrive, but even he was ten minutes early, and there was nothing to do while waiting except stand there.

There were a lot of spectators, but not nearly as many as there had been at the previous exam. Without the allure of an Uchiha, people simply weren't interested enough to take the time off. Even having two Hyuuga, someone who had defeated a Hyuuga prodigy, the Hokage's apprentice, and the Uchiha's previous opponent wasn't equivalent to having an Uchiha.

Tsunade, settled into her cement high-backed chair with the worst possible view of the action, was very annoyed. She would have just said "tradition be damned" and watched from the combatants' waiting room if it weren't for the fact that there were so many potential clients present. Somehow the idea of an impatient, self-centered Hokage didn't strike her as good for the village. Even if she didn't like the way everything was structured, she was the host, and was therefore required to adhere to tradition in the presence of her honored guests.

Still, she thought the chair was a bit much. Whose idea had it been to make the damned thing out of cement, anyway? She had tried to bring the chair from her office, but Shizune had caught her in the act. Tsunade tried using authority ("get out of the way, now"), guilt trips ("you hate me, is that it?"), threats ("I'm not above breaking a few of your ribs, you know"), and even pleading ("come on, have a heart!"), but Shizune had refused to yield. It was for the good of the village, of course, but she still found it odd that she, the Hokage, was so easily bossed around by Shizune, a jounin. When the hell had that happened?

"Mabui, over here!" Kiba waved his arms to get her attention as Shino, Chouji, and Tenten turned around to do the same. Mabui didn't hear him over the crowd, but Akamaru's barking caught her attention.

"Hey guys!" She waved back and ran over to them. "How'd you get such good seats?"

"Civilians generally avoid the front row so that the ninja can have a better view." Tenten shrugged, "it's always been that way. Haven't you ever watched the exams before?" Seeing Mabui shake her head, they were all a little surprised. "Oh… Well, we saved you a seat, if you want a good view."


"Don't worry, Mabui." Shino again surprised everyone by being the first to speak, but he didn't notice their reactions. "There are no actual rules against you sitting here, and we know that you want to be able to see Naruto's fights."

"Er…" She didn't really feel comfortable with the situation, but she didn't want to be rude, so she nodded. "Yeah, thanks."

On the other side of the arena, Temari and Kankurou were just getting settled in. They couldn't wait to see Ankoku get massacred by Gaara, but at the same time they were slightly anxious that such a fight would make Gaara lose whatever calm Naruto had given him. Hoping against hope that what Naruto had taught him was something permanent, they allowed themselves to relax mentally and prepared to enjoy the show.

"Oi, it's the Suna guys!" Turning around, they saw something they definitely didn't want to see: Boufuu. "You don't mind if I sit with you, do ya?"

"Actually, we--"

"Great!" He sat down in an empty chair next to Temari, which she was beginning to wish was occupied by Baki. "I was hopin' that I'd be able to sit with ya while Ankoku fights your teammate."

"You're not wanted here; go away." Kankurou's command was ignored.

"For his sake though, he'd better not be all that strong." Boufuu's sneer made them both sick to their stomachs, but he didn't mind the looks on their faces. "Ankoku only kills strong opponents, so he might survive if he's weak enough."

"He won't be able to kill Gaara. If anything, he'll be lucky if Gaara doesn't kill him." Boufuu would have burst out laughing if Temari's face hadn't been so serious.

"I think you're either overestimatin' your friend pretty badly, or underestimatin' Ankoku worse. Even most of Iwa's jounin wouldn't be willin' to fight Ankoku."

"You're the one who's underestimating Gaara, if you really think he'll lose." The rock-nin looked unconvinced, but neither of the sand-nins gave a damn what he thought. Simply put, they knew that Gaara wouldn't lose.

While the rest of the spectators were seated, most of the Konoha jounin chose to stand. It wasn't so much a precautionary measure as a force of habit, none of them wanting to leave their guards down. Because there was no major threat, most of the village's jounin were actually out on missions, and those that weren't didn't bother to scatter themselves around the stands. ANBU existed for a reason, after all.

Kakashi, Gai, Kurenai, and Asuma were all standing together, not wanting to miss the opportunity to glean information from each other during the fights. Of course, there was still some time left before the beginning of the tournament, so they decided to discuss the upcoming matches.

"So Gai, who do you think will win the fight between Neji and Lee?"

"You have to ask? Lee will win the fight, of course! His determination and hard work will put Neji's natural genius to shame!"

"Do you really think that, or is this just wishful thinking?" Kakashi was the one to ask the question, but Asuma and Kurenai were just as curious.

"Kakashi, do you really doubt Lee that much?" Receiving no answer other than a blank stare, Gai let out a sigh. "He has superior speed, strength, and stamina, and he's more motivated to win than Neji. Even if Neji can see attacks coming from any direction, that doesn't mean that he can react quickly enough to block them, and kaiten uses too much energy for him to rely on it completely." Striking his nice-guy pose, Gai finalized his opinion: "Lee won't lose!"

"If you say so…" /You seem to be forgetting about Neji's ability to close Lee's tenketsus though…/

"Even if he does win, will he be able to beat Gaara?" All attention turned to Kurenai, whose curiosity was getting the better of her.

"You're assuming that Gaara will win his first match, then?"

"Kakashi, are you a complete idiot? I wouldn't want to fight Gaara. There's no way some no-name genin from Iwa is going to beat him."

"But it's the no-names that you really have to watch out for." Asuma took a drag on his cigarette, "we don't know much about what he can do, so we don't know that Gaara can beat him. Don't forget that Gaara was a no-name too, and still is to most people."

"Yeah, but--"

"That doton jutsu he used was able to completely withstand Chouji's attack, and he seemed to have a genjutsu as well, so it doesn't seem right to count him out just yet. I'm not saying that I think he'll win, but a jounin should know better than to make assumptions." Although she still didn't think he stood a snowball's chance in hell, she didn't bother to argue. Asuma was right about it being bad to presume weakness.

"Kurenai, do you think Hinata can beat Ino?" Looking over at him, she could tell that Kakashi was serious, so she thought it over.

"It… depends."

"'Depends?' On what?"

"How loudly Naruto cheers her on." She sighed and shook her head. "In terms of skill, Hinata is leaps and bounds over Ino, but she doubts herself enough that she could still lose."

"You don't think she's changed at all?" As Kurenai began to wonder if Asuma's sole purpose in life was to undermine everything she said, he took another drag on his cigarette. "Her fight with Kankurou went pretty well…"

"She's come a long way, but her father screwed her up pretty badly. He doesn't even treat her like a person, let alone his own daughter, and it's all because he thinks that she's too weak. Growing up in a home like that, it's amazing that she has the courage to be a ninja at all."

"What, no speculation about Kaen?" They all turned around to see Aoshi walking towards them, looking less cheerful than usual.

"We know better than to make guesses about Naruto's fights." Kakashi shrugged, "every time we do, we end up being wrong."


It didn't surprise Tsunade that the Tsuchikage elected not to come, given that only one rock-nin was participating, but it still disappointed her that she was the only one to have to sit in such an uncomfortable chair. Glad for the chance to stand for a moment, she got up and cleared her throat to start the exam. "Everyone, thanks for coming to the Konoha-gakure chuunin selection exam! We'll be starting the tournament now, and you'll get to see the nine genin that made it through the preliminaries. Please enjoy all of the matches!" She continued to stand there for a moment, wondering if anyone would really care that she wasn't sitting, but eventually noticed Shizune's glare and sat down.

"Alright guys, listen up." Genma immediately had the attention of all nine participants, even though most of them knew exactly what he was going to say. "The arena is different, but the rules are the same: there are none. Loss is only by death or forfeit, but if I deem the match over, I'll step in and stop it. Understand?" Everyone nodded. "The first match will be round zero: Touketsu Kaen vs. Uzumaki Naruto. Those two stay here, and the rest of you go to the waiting room."

Naruto and Kaen, who had already been standing several feet apart, turned to face each other as everyone else left the field. Kaen's smirk was so wide that Genma felt like punching the brat's face in, but after remembering Naruto's match with Neji he didn't think it necessary. The look in Naruto's eyes wasn't very reassuring, though.

"Begin!" Kaen immediately charged head-on, throwing a punch at Naruto's face. Because he wasn't wearing his weights, Naruto easily jumped backwards out of the way, but Kaen pursued him. It soon became clear that the blue-haired boy was faster than Naruto when his roundhouse kick hit Naruto square in the side of the head, sending the blond flying.

"You have no idea how much I've wanted to fight you, Naruto. Hurry up and get serious, or I'm gonna get mad."

Naruto, surprised that the kick hadn't hurt at all, got to his feet. He had ignored Kaen completely, focusing instead on what he was going to do. Under normal circumstances his plan would be to use Naruto senkou no jutsu to make himself faster than Kaen, but Ino's words refused to leave his mind. /'An idiot like you… you're just gonna end up hurting all your allies.'/

Noting that Naruto wasn't even really paying attention to him, Kaen became angry. "Fine! If you aren't going to come at me with everything that you have, I'll just have to give you some motivation! Kaen!" His arms encompassed in flames, he began a mad dash towards the still-indecisive Naruto. Just as his hit was about to connect, however, Naruto used kawarimi no jutsu to switch places with, of all things, Kaen. As that was the last thing Kaen had expected, he simply stumbled forward and fell on his face, while Naruto put some distance between them.

After putting some thought into it, Naruto had come to a simple conclusion: the best way to prove that he could be trusted with high-level attacks was to show that he knew when not to use them. As he didn't want to kill Kaen, he needed to limit himself to non-fatal attacks. His decision was that he wouldn't use any more power than was necessary to win.

Up in the stands, nearly everyone was surprised by Naruto's tactic. "Is that even possible? He just switched places with an unwilling living thing…"

"Yes Kurenai, it's possible." Kakashi sweat-dropped, embarrassed that Naruto had essentially copied him again. "It's extremely unorthodox to switch with your opponent, especially while they're in the middle of an attack, but it's possible nonetheless."

Kaen stood up, dusted himself off, and turned around to face Naruto. "Points for originality, but you won't beat me with a technique they teach at the academy. Don't you understand? Powerful techniques make powerful fighters, plain and simple. I need to beat you at your best, so bring out those S-rank jutsu I've heard about!"

"Why?" Naruto's question caused Kaen to raise an eyebrow. "Why do you need to beat me?"

"Because, Naruto…" Kaen's grin became wide enough that his mouth opened slightly, revealing his canines. "After you defeated the Hyuuga prodigy, you became known as the strongest genin in Konoha. By beating you, I'll show that I'm stronger, which will earn me the recognition I so desperately need. I'll put distance between my own reputation and that of my accursed clan, and be well on my way to forming a new clan, which will be known as the strongest in Konoha. My clan won't be looked down upon, and--"

"That's it?" Naruto couldn't stand Kaen's rant anymore. "You're acting like a complete asshole because you hate your clan? At least you have a clan!"

"I'd rather have a life of loneliness than a legacy of weakness and disrespect. When you get right down to it, that's all I care about. If you disagree with me, then pull out that tremendous power you're supposed to have and fight me!" He formed the bird seal, "Bottou!" Just as Naruto began to wonder why Kaen would want to cover himself with water, he noticed that the water wasn't covering Kaen. The blue-haired genin then formed the rabbit seal, "Ikazuchi! (Thunder!)" What occurred next caused Naruto no small amount of shock. While the technique didn't produce thunder, it did create a bolt of electricity that struck the thin layer of water covering Naruto's body.

"Naruto!" Mabui shot out of her chair, alarming everyone around her. "NARUTO!"

"Mabui, calm down!" Kiba was immediately on his feet, trying to guide Mabui back to her seat. "He's fine!"

"Fine? He just got electrocuted!"

"You're forgetting that ninja are able to endure more than normal people." That calmed her down, but she still seemed pretty worried. "It'll take more than that to take Naruto down. Trust me."

Encased in water, Naruto was wondering what to do. Not only was he unable to breathe at all, but that attack had hurt. His most obvious option was to use a rasengan to gather all of the water and then launch it at the ground in front of Kaen to obscure the boy's vision while creating a bakuretsu kage bunshin and hiding underground, but he couldn't help but feel that there had to be a more basic solution. Remembering his earlier decision, he continued to think about what that solution could be.

"Chikushou! If you won't fight me, you'll just keep getting hurt! Ikazuchi!" The lightning again converged upon Naruto's water cocoon, but there was one major difference: Naruto was no longer there. Kaen, on the other hand, was. After screaming in pain from being hit with his own technique, he allowed the water to disappear into nothing so that he could breathe. "What, the same tactic? I already told you that that won't work!"

Naruto broke out laughing at that comment, barely resisting the urge to say "looked like it worked to me!" When he finally stopped laughing, Kaen looked about ready to go on a killing spree, so he tried to speak calmly. "Not everything is about strong techniques, idiot. Sometimes you need to know what resources are at your disposal and how to use them." It was Asuma's turn to sweat-drop at being copied. "Even the most basic jutsu are dangerous when used by a jounin."

"Shut up!" Kaen definitely looked angry, which Naruto didn't take as a good thing. "It's easy to say that when you have strong techniques, but do you really think you'd feel that way if you only had those basic jutsu? The strong have strong techniques, and it's because of those techniques that they're able to be strong! Quit rambling about things that you don't understand!" He quickly formed the boar and sheep seals, "Shizume! (Sink!)" The ground beneath Naruto pulled him downward into it, until he was submerged up to his knees. Far from finished, Kaen formed the boar and snake seals. "Kataku Nare! (Harden!)"

Suddenly unable to move his legs at all, Naruto became slightly worried. He tried pulling on his legs with his arms, but that didn't help at all. Although he briefly considered using kawarimi no jutsu on Kaen again, he decided against it. The last thing he wanted was to become predictable.

"What, you're not gonna switch with me again? Good, that'll just make it easier to force you to use a strong jutsu!" Kaen smirked as he charged the immobile Naruto.

As Naruto tried (and failed) to defend himself from Kaen's assault, Anko grew more and more annoyed. He was making her look like a completely inept teacher, to the point where Tsunade was likely to set her back on missions just to keep her away from him! She simply couldn't imagine a reason for him not to use kage bunshin and turn the tide of the battle.

Kakashi was scratching his head in confusion, but for a completely different reason. Turning to Aoshi, he cleared his throat. "Aoshi, how is it possible that Kaen can use four types of elemental jutsu? There's no way a genin could be capable of that many types of nature manipulation, no matter how skilled he is."

"That's…" Aoshi let out a sigh. "That's because he doesn't know how to manipulate his chakra's nature."

"Eh?" Kurenai, Asuma, and Gai all looked just as confused as Kakashi, but that didn't really surprise Aoshi.

"Our family techniques don't require that you learn to control your chakra's nature, as they use a… different method for elemental attacks. It's supposedly easier to learn than nature manipulation, so it makes it easier to learn to use all five types of techniques."

"What kind of method could do that?"

"I'm not really sure about the specifics, as I've never been able to learn it myself, but I remember one of the scrolls saying that you 'work with what's already there.' For example: there are already elements in the air that are flammable, so all Kaen has to do is pour enough chakra into them that they heat up. Provided that there's enough oxygen around, he'll get easily managed fire."

"But…" /That's so wasteful! Techniques like that…/

"It's riddled with problems, of course. Despite his confidence, Kaen can't win this fight."

"Huh?" Asuma took a drag on his newly-lit cigarette. "You're predicting that your son will lose?" Aoshi smiled, causing him to receive some curious looks.

"One of the main problems with it is that it requires more chakra than it would if it were done in the normal way. He took a soldier pill before leaving home today, but even with that added chakra he can't use many more techniques, which is probably the only reason that he's switched over to taijutsu. Unless Naruto gives up or refuses to fight back, Kaen has no chance at all of winning."

"Why are you taking it so well? Don't you want your son to become a chuunin?"

"Yes Kurenai, I want him to be a chuunin, but that's not why I entered him in the exam." He chuckled at her puzzled look. "I entered Kaen so that he would lose, hoping that he would learn to lighten up and appreciate others, just like I entered Shimaru hoping that he would stop treating all of his opponents like his best friends. It's better for them to both fail the exam once than it is for them to pass on the first try and grow into dysfunctional shinobi."

"Ah…" Wondering whether or not his efforts were in vain, they turned their attention back to Naruto and Kaen. Naruto was still refusing to use any of his jutsu, and Kaen was getting more and more frustrated with the blond's attitude.

"Chikushou!" He landed another kick on Naruto's gut, "fight back!" The attacks didn't hurt Naruto very much at all, but they still stopped him from prying himself out of the ground, so he really couldn't do anything other than futilely attempt to defend himself. If he had been willing to risk killing Kaen he could have used rasengan, but that would have gone against his ideal for the fight.

Kage bunshin was a viable option, but there was an additional problem that he had to consider: Kaen's obsession with jutsu. Using a jounin-level technique would just have given Kaen an excuse to continue to believe that strong techniques make strong fighters, allowing him to wallow in his self-pity for the rest of his life. Considering how lucky Kaen had been to grow up with a large family, Naruto couldn't stand the thought of letting him think that he was justified.

"I said 'FIGHT BACK!'" Kaen threw a punch at Naruto's face, which Naruto didn't even try to block. As he pulled back his fist to punch again, he caught a glimpse of Naruto's grin.

"You're pathetic." Letting out a little laugh, Naruto pulled out a kunai with an explosive note wrapped around it. "There's no way I'll lose to a whiner like you." He stabbed the kunai into the ground between them, submerging it almost completely.

"Are you crazy?" Kaen jumped back to a safe distance and watched as Naruto blew himself up. "Placing an explosive right next to yourself just to get out of my trap… You must be some kind of moron." Naruto gave no answer from his position within the smoke, which just frustrated Kaen more. "How am I supposed to show that I'm stronger than you if you not only won't fight me, but even seem to fight yourself? Bastard!"

It took a moment, but eventually Kaen realized that there were shuriken embedded in his legs. Naruto had taken advantage of his lack of focus, using the smoke as cover, and hit him with the most common projectile weapon among shinobi. Said genin walked out of the smoke with a big foxy grin. "You don't think things through very much, do you?"

"What are you talking about? You're the one that blew himself up!" Naruto started laughing again, which just made Kaen angrier. "Why are you laughing? I didn't say anything funny!"

Letting his laughter die down, Naruto gestured to the hole created by the explosion. It was amazingly small. "Your jutsu made the ground so hard that the explosion barely affected me at all. My clothes didn't even get burned…"

"But…" /My technique protected him?/ "Kuso!" Again forming the tiger seal, he resolved to end it. "Kaen!"

"What, this technique again?" While Kaen charged forward, Naruto subtly dropped an explosive note on the ground, but didn't set it up to explode. He let Kaen hit him, which only hurt because of the fire, and was sent rolling backwards several feet, ending up face down in the dirt.

"You really think I'm going to fall for a trick like that?" He dispelled his jutsu, "I know you didn't activate this note. Don't underestimate me!" /Shimatta… I'm almost out of chakra! If I don't finish this soon I'll lose in the next round…/ After a brief consideration of his options, Kaen charged Naruto for a standard taijutsu assault. Speed and strength were on his side, after all. Even if it was what Naruto was hoping for, Kaen knew that he had the advantage. Naruto hadn't gotten up off of the ground, but Genma hadn't called the match, so Kaen felt no remorse whatsoever. Covering the distance between them fairly quickly, he threw a punch at the back of Naruto's head, and hit… an explosive note? "Shimatta!"

Kaen turned around as quickly as he could, not wanting to expose his back to Naruto, only to see that the explosive note was still laying on the ground. His eyes widening severely, he turned back towards what he knew had to be Naruto, fully prepared to put up a defensive. He was greeted by the site of a crumpled explosive note. As he was wondering which of the notes was actually Naruto, he found that there was suddenly a kunai lodged in the back of his right knee.

"So… kawarimi after all. I should've guessed that you would--" Upon seeing that the other explosive note was still an explosive note, he froze. Taking advantage of Kaen's distracted state, Naruto dispelled his henge and pinned his opponent on the ground with a kunai at the boy's throat.

"Like I said before: you're pathetic."

"How—you set a trap in that hole?"

"Wow, you finally figured it out? I was getting worried there for a second…"

"But how'd you activate it?"

"Your focus was so narrow that you didn't even notice me dispel henge, throw a shuriken right by you, and use henge again." The shock that Kaen received upon hearing that was such that he was left completely speechless. "Quit complaining about your clan and how everyone assumes that you're weak. You aren't that strong yourself, so you should just be glad that there are people that care about you."

Genma waited with a grin while Naruto was talking. Every time he heard the boy criticize someone, he was impressed by Naruto's maturity and insight. "This match is over. Shousha: Uzumaki Naruto!" The crowd began cheering loudly as Naruto got up and thrust his fist in the air. Genma wanted one last thing to be impressed upon Kaen before the medics arrived, so he walked over to the boy and lowered his voice. "It's true that strong people generally know strong techniques, but those techniques aren't why they're strong. Underestimating the usefulness of the basics is a weakness too."

Kaen grimaced at being told that his entire way of thinking was wrong, but ultimately knew that Genma was right. Naruto had defeated him with nothing more than henge, kawarimi, and some simple weapons. The conclusion that he came to was that Naruto had been right: utilizing the proper resources is an important aspect of strength. Although it wasn't a pleasant thought, he knew that his father was the resource that would best help in fixing all of his faults.

"Yatta! Way to go, Naruto!" Mabui had jumped out of her chair the moment that Naruto's victory had been declared, and was literally jumping for joy. Kiba, Shino, Chouji, and Tenten, while happy that Naruto had won, were far too shocked at his methodology to get up and cheer. Not only had he shown a level of restraint that none of them would have considered possible, but he hadn't even used kage bunshin!

Shino was by far the most shocked, though. Had he only known that Kaen's weakness was kawarimi no jutsu, of all things, he would have easily won his preliminary match. Still, the fact that he hadn't even tried it showed that he was also guilty of underestimating the fundamentals, and he doubted that he would have been able to defeat Naruto regardless.

"Mabui? I think you can stop cheering now…" Kiba was starting to get annoyed, and Akamaru yipped in agreement. "Naruto isn't even on the field anymore." She stopped cheering mid-jump, which was a weird sight.

"Oh, yeah…" Mabui turned around, somewhat embarrassed. "It's just so exciting! I've never seen a ninja fight before!"

"Never?" She shook her head slowly, wondering why he sounded so surprised. "You live in Konoha! How is it possible for you to have never seen a ninja fight before?"

"I don't know… I just haven't!"

"Oi, it's Sakura-san's friends!" Shimaru suddenly had their attention, and the first thing they noticed was that he wasn't alone. "We didn't miss Kaen's fight, did we?"

"Yeah, you did…" None of them were really comfortable around someone as odd as Shimaru, so Tenten, as the most friendly among them that had met him, was the one that answered.

"Kuso! I wanted to see the Uzumaki wipe the floor with him!" The sudden outburst came from the man on Shimaru's right, whom they assumed to be his father. "Did he at least get a good beating?"


"You forgot to introduce yourself, dear." This time it was the woman on Shimaru's left, presumably his mother. It struck them as odd that she looked nothing like her apparent son, with her purple hair and red eyes, but they couldn't think of anyone else she could be.

"Oh, right, sorry about that…" The man scratched the back of his head, "I'm Kuromushi Shien, and this is my wife, Shichuu. So, did the Uzumaki boy blow Kaen's brains out or what?"

"Uh…" Tenten was still put off by the fact that the man had a toothy, heavily blood-stained sword with no sheath on his back, but his smile was warm enough that her attention was mostly drawn to it. "Naruto won, but because of the way he did it Kaen didn't get hurt very badly."

"Aw man!" Shien kicked at the ground like a disappointed toddler. "I was hoping he'd at least lose a few pints of blood!" Shichuu latched onto her husband in a very motherly manner, hoping to console him over his "loss."

"It's alright honey, I'm sure you'll get to see him get hurt in the next exam…" At that point Mabui, Chouji, Shino, Kiba, and Tenten realized that they were being serious. The mood tensed, but Shien, Shichuu, and Shimaru were oblivious to any change in atmosphere. "Besides, there are plenty of fights left in the tournament, and two of the participants are Hyuuga."

"Oh yeah! We'll get to see injuries for sure!" He let out a big, overdramatic sigh, "it's just too bad that Shimaru gave up his chance to beat one of them… Would've been nice, having my son win the tournament…"

"But you told me to always treat people with courtesy and respect!" Shimaru looked angry, but maintained his impression of childish innocence.

"Shimaru-chan, we didn't mean that you should act that way in battle!" Shichuu's smile at that moment confirmed the others' suspicions: it was either a genetic trait or a genjutsu. There was simply no way that three people with personalities that different could all have the same warm, spine-tingling smile. "We're proud of you for developing genjutsu that will work on the Hyuuga clan, but you need to understand that things change during a fight. The entire point of a fight is to harm, kill, or capture your opponent. If you run into enemies on a mission, you can't afford to show them mercy."

"Yeah, and besides…" Shien adjusted the bandages covering his mouth to make it easier to speak, "you come off as a total pansy if you say things like 'it wouldn't feel right.' You're a ninja now! Act like it, and be proud of your strength!"

"I'm not a pansy!" Shimaru puffed up his chest for a moment before deflating and looking uncomfortable. "It's just that… I don't want to see anyone get hurt if I can help it…"

Crouching down by his son, Shien again smiled warmly. "Hey now, don't forget about your teammates! If you show your enemy mercy, your friends could wind up dead! Not to mention that your enemy has every intention of hurting you, regardless of whether or not you want to hurt them." He stood up again and rustled his son's hair, "because of that, when in battle, you should just unleash your inner sadist!"

Even with the extreme level of discomfort that they felt, the others couldn't help but sweat-drop at the term "inner sadist." Shichuu, turning her attention away from her two boys, let her curiosity get the better of her. "So, if Naruto didn't hurt Kaen, how did he win?" Tenten, glad for the opportunity to stop the talking about pain, blood, and merciless sadism, was quick to answer.

"He used kawarimi no jutsu a few times, some shuriken and kunai, and a henge. The match was called when he had Kaen pinned to the ground with a kunai to his throat."

"Hmm?" To say that she was surprised would be like saying that Jiraiya liked seeing naked women. "The Uzumaki boy… captured a conscious opponent after using minimal force and only the simplest techniques? That's quite a step up from last time…" /He might actually make chuunin…/ "Oh, I almost forgot! We never gave you a chance to introduce yourselves!"

"I don't get it, Temari… Why didn't he use any of those powerful techniques that he supposedly made?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know?" Temari's glare quickly silenced her brother, so she turned her sights back to the arena. Boufuu, however, had never been the type to be silenced by a glare, let alone a glare aimed at someone else.

"That guy had powerful techniques?" Completely impervious to the killing intent that was being directed at him, he just smiled at the sand siblings. "Like what?" He got no response, as both Kankurou and Temari were hoping that he would just go away if ignored. "Well, it's probably better if he doesn't use them. Ankoku'll just kill him if he does." The wave of killing intent became much stronger, but he chose to dismiss it.

As Naruto entered the waiting room, he was greeted by four smiles, one shy glance, one nod of general acknowledgement, and one bored look. Ignoring Ankoku's mild creepiness, he made a beeline for Ino. "How'd I do, Ino-chan?"

"What're you asking me for? You won didn't you?" He didn't seem satisfied with that response, but she didn't have even the faintest idea as to why.

Surveying the audience, Genma decided that it was time to continue, so he cleared his throat. "Alright, it's now time for the next match! Sabaku no Gaara and Tsuchi no Ankoku, come down here!" Gaara didn't feel any particular sense of urgency, and Ankoku was hardly the type to hurry, so they ended up slowly walking down the stairs together. The trip was entirely silent, and it took them so long that the audience grew impatient.

When they were finally facing each other, preparing to begin the fight, the spectators quieted down. Genma, standing a little further away from them than he would usually stand when beginning a fight, grinned widely. "Begin!" Neither contestant made any sort of advance. After a full minute of nothing, Genma's grin disappeared. "Preferably today, if you two aren't too busy staring at each other."

Ankoku shrugged, "okay, I guess I can get things started. You'd better not be too disappointing, though." His comment received nothing but a blank stare, so he started his attack. In order to gauge Gaara, he started with a simple assault consisting of four earth tentacles, one from each direction. What surprised him wasn't that Gaara's sand blocked them, but that it blocked the one behind him without him turning around to notice it. "Interesting… It seems that there's more to you than I would have thought. I wonder…"

Just as Gaara was beginning to wonder what Ankoku was wondering about, there was a sudden shift in his sand. Looking down, he was startled by the sight of his sand blocking another attack, this one coming from directly below him. "I see."

"You figured it out, huh?" Ankoku no longer looked bored, and actually looked to be having quite a bit of fun. "I'm impressed! The first guess usually takes five minutes or so. Well, enlighten me: what exactly am I doing?" Gaara raised what would have been an eyebrow, had he had eyebrows, before allowing more sand to pour out of his gourd.

"It's obvious that you're just using doton jutsu without making hand seals." His sand formed a protective platform for him to stand on, removing the threat of attacks coming from underneath.

"Ooh, so close!" Ankoku's grin morphed into a murderous smile. "Still, I have to commend you on coming up with that so soon. Most people start by guessing that someone else is using the jutsu, or that I have an extra set of hands. The 'jutsu without hand seals' guess usually takes fifteen or twenty minutes, and by that time most people lose my interest."

Gaara, not wanting the fight to last any longer, created some sand from the ground and sent it into the air. "Suna Shigure!" His newly formed sand took the appearance of rain and shot itself at Ankoku, whose smile didn't falter. Not even bothering to look up, Ankoku merely created a small sphere of hardened earth around his person, which served as a perfect shield from the sand attack.

"Say goodbye to your friend, because he's not comin' outta this alive." Boufuu looked positively thrilled at the idea of Gaara's death, which only added to Temari's agitation. "He shouldn't have made himself so interestin'."

"I already told you…" It was all Temari could do to not snap his neck. "Gaara won't lose."

"You might wanna reserve judgment on that until Ankoku starts takin' him seriously."

Once the rain of sand stopped, Ankoku's barrier melted back into the ground around him, revealing the same psychotic smile on his face. "Even more interesting, Gaara. The ability to make sand out of the particles in the ground and use that sand to attack… You're going to be fun to kill!"

/Is he like me? No, those eyes say it all…/ "Killing only for fun? Doesn't that life seem a bit hollow to you?" A deep laugh met his question, giving him a perfectly clear answer without Ankoku even having to speak.

"Yes, this life is quite hollow, but that's what makes it worth it! Those long stretches of boredom allow me to truly appreciate the fun I have when killing!" Smiling even wider, he suddenly had a very good idea. "Besides, it allows me to hide from the pain of my past."


"Yes, pain. When I was about two years old I was found in a dumpster in Iwa. Five days later, I went blind. No one knew who I was or where I came from, so I was rejected within the village as an unwelcome guest. I had no family, no home, and no money, and that lifestyle remained with me until I became a genin. Wandering the village without being able to see, locating dumpsters by smell in order to steal discarded food, and being rejected by everyone around me… That is the life I've known."

"That…" Gaara's eyes widened in horror at how badly he had misread his opponent. /All because of his eyes…/

Ankoku suddenly burst out in laughter, and continued laughing for almost a full minute. When he stopped, he had to put his hands on his knees to catch his breath. "Not!" Gaara froze completely, the most shocked look of his life on his face. "You should have seen your face though!" Ankoku chuckled darkly, "it was priceless!"

"Do you think…" Gaara was holding the sides of his head, which was making Temari and Kankurou anxious. "Do you really think that the lives of others are so worthless that you have a right to do with them as you please?"

"Eh?" For the first time, Ankoku was the one who looked confused. "That story didn't have to do with anyone else's life… In answer to your question though, I really don't care what people's lives are worth. I'll do what I want to, and anyone that tries to stop me will die. End of story."

"Wrong answer." Gaara created some more sand underground and pulled it up, but suddenly there was a very real problem: it wouldn't come. Somehow, the ground was providing enough resistance that his sand couldn't get out. That was mostly because it wasn't from his main stock, and was therefore more difficult to control, but it was still disconcerting.

"Sorry, I can't let you do that just yet, because our little guessing game isn't done! You've been very entertaining, so I'll even give you a hint!" What happened next caused Gaara a shot of extreme shock. His own sand, from the little platform that he had made for himself, was struggling to wrap itself around his legs. It was doing an extremely pathetic job, but the fact that it was attempting to harm him was definitely cause for alarm. "Wow, what's with that sand? Does it have its own chakra or something?"

Coming to a sudden realization, Gaara had his sand platform lift him into the air. As he had expected would happen, his sand stopped its feeble attempts at attacking him the moment it ceased contact with the ground. "Ah, so that's your gimmick. Earth natured chakra…"

"Congratulations, Sabaku no Gaara! You're the first opponent to ever figure it out during the fight! I'm very impressed!"

As Gaara gathered all of his sand into the sky with him, Temari and Kankurou finally had a reason to be glad that Boufuu had forced his company on them. "Oi, rock-nin, what are they talking about? What's his ability?"

The smirk they received was not at all reassuring. "Ankoku's 'ability' is just an instinctive control over earth natured chakra."

"Earth natured chakra?" Kankurou was more confused by that than Temari, if only just barely. "How does that help him control Gaara's sand?"

"You sand-nins aren't very well educated, are you?" He ignored the anger in favor of explaining it to them. "There are five elemental 'natures' that chakra can take on: wind, fire, water, earth, and lightnin'. Each of these different types of chakra has a different effect, and the effect of earth chakra is the ability to move and reshape objects. Most people assume that Ankoku's attacks are doton jutsu, but the truth of it is that he can use almost anything as a weapon."


"Heh…" They didn't appreciate him explaining it so slowly, but he wanted something to do while Gaara was sitting in the sky analyzing the situation. "That, combined with a special genjutsu, is Ankoku's absolute offense." The terminology was all too similar to that of Gaara's "absolute defense" for their comfort, causing them to not even bother asking what the genjutsu was.

Giving up on pulling up the sand from underground, Gaara was done with his analysis. "This ability of yours, using earth chakra to control your environment… It's riddled with weaknesses."

"Ah, you noticed that did you?" Ankoku's smile just got even bigger, which made him look all the more homicidal. "But, even if you know there are weaknesses, will you be able to exploit them?" Apparently Gaara wasn't hovering at a high enough altitude, because the cement walls holding up the stands suddenly sprouted spikes that extended themselves at Gaara from above. Rather than let his shield of sand do its job, he just moved his platform of sand out of the way.

Of course, Ankoku was right: pointing out the weaknesses was easier than utilizing them. What Gaara needed was a plan. /Because it's earth chakra, it can't travel through air or water. That means that he needs to have some kind of direct link through solid objects in order to control something. Based on the difficulty he had in controlling the sand, I'd say that his "chain" stops when someone else's chakra gets in the way. His control slows down when his chakra has to travel large distances, and he has to be actively putting chakra into something to maintain any level of control over it. He also has to be consciously aware of everything that he's doing, meaning that his defense is imperfect…/

"What will you do, Gaara? Your appeal is wearing thin, meaning that it will be time to kill you soon if you don't find a new trick."

Using some of his main sand, Gaara pretended to attempt a frontal assault on his cocky enemy, achieving the expected result. While Ankoku focused on shielding himself from a ram made of sand, a fairly large amount of high-density sand was able to escape the ground behind him. Wasting no time, as he really didn't want the match to continue any longer, Gaara extended a hand. "Sabaku Kyuu!" Sand engulfed Ankoku from behind and lifted him into the air before rearranging itself to only hold his limbs.

"Wow…" The rock-nin let out an uncharacteristically high-pitched laugh, "I never expected you to hoist me off the ground! That's pretty good, Gaara! You got rid of my connection to the ground, rendering my technique virtually useless…" He struggled against his bonds for a moment before noticing something that made him slightly less happy. Suddenly, against Gaara's will, the sand moved just enough to let Ankoku fall back to the ground. "Unfortunately, it seems that the sand you make from the ground is easier for me to manipulate than the sand from your gourd. I'm bored with you now, so it's time to die. Kuragari!"

Gaara felt a small electric shock on his arm, and then… nothing. He couldn't see, hear, smell, taste, or feel. Complete darkness in nearly every sense of the word. Considering his situation at that time, though, he didn't really think it made any difference. The only problem was that he couldn't attack, but all he had to do to change that was dispel the genjutsu.

Not bothering to say anything, as Gaara wouldn't have heard him anyway, Ankoku began his attack by extending spikes from the walls again. They were, of course, blocked, which confused him to no end. Figuring that it had just been an amazing show of luck, he tried again from a different angle, and was again denied. Frustrated, he formed a giant battering ram and shot it at Gaara, but the sand put up such a good defense that Gaara was merely pushed to the side a little. Finally understanding that there was something he wasn't getting, he relaxed and tried to think of a plan.

"Whoa… What the hell is he?" Boufuu, knowing exactly what the kuragari was like, couldn't help but be awed by Gaara's continued self-defense. "There's no way he could be blockin' those attacks right now!"

"Huh?" Temari did her best to adopt a civil tone, not wanting to close up their only source of information on Ankoku. "Why's that?"

"Because Ankoku used kuragari!" Boufuu's smirk was gone, which caused both of the sand-nins to grin. "While under that special genjutsu, all sensory perception is cut off! He shouldn't be able to tell that attacks are comin', let alone where they're comin' from!"

"It doesn't matter if Gaara knows that the attacks are coming; the sand protects him regardless of his will." The rock-nin's eyes widened, "that's Gaara's absolute defense."

"Absolute… defense?" /Great… another monster…/

His plan all set, Ankoku created a giant hand of earth and sent it at Gaara's hovering form. The hand got halfway to the floating sand before Ankoku realized that he was running severely low on chakra. He knew he needed to finish it quickly and get something to eat, so he uncrossed his arms and gave the situation his full concentration. Once the hand reached Gaara it closed around him, resulting in it taking hold of the entire shield of sand. Then came the part that he just knew would finish the fight: the hand began retracting into the ground, Gaara in hand. Even if Gaara was able to defend without senses, there was no way he'd be able to breathe without air.

Gathering a large portion of chakra together, Gaara focused it all into the area that he hoped was his brain. "Kai!" He was surprised to see that it had actually worked, restoring his senses, but was even more surprised to see that his sand was forming a protective sphere around him, and that he seemed to be falling rapidly. Immediately taking active control of the sand, he made the sphere smaller and forced his way out of the hand's grip.

Ankoku nearly had a heart attack. The only conceivable way for Gaara to have escaped that situation was for him to have broken free of the genjutsu, which no one had ever done before. Of course, no one had ever had that much time in which to try, but it was still a shock to his mind. He prepared to use the jutsu again, hoping that it had just been a fluke, when Gaara suddenly shut himself in a sphere made of his primary sand.

Having figured out that Ankoku's genjutsu was implemented with a small burst of static electricity, there was no way that Gaara was going to leave himself open to it again. The third eye formed, large amounts of sand sprang up from the ground, and Ankoku was finally ready to admit that he was scared. For the first time that he could remember, he was scared that someone else was going to kill him.

"Suna Shigure!" Ankoku used up almost all of his remaining chakra forming a barrier that could withstand the rain of sand, but managed to remain standing. "Sabaku Kyuu!" As the sand wrapped itself around his defenseless form, he began to wonder if death was always this unpleasant. He waited for it, and waited for it, and waited for it… nothing seemed to be happening. When he opened his eyes, Genma was standing right in front of him, and Gaara's protective sphere of sand was only about a foot above the ground.

"Ankoku is unable to continue! Shousha: Sabaku no Gaara!" Ankoku was suddenly released from his coffin as Gaara's cocoon dissipated and all of the sand returned to his gourd. Barely stabilized on his knees, Ankoku called out to Gaara's retreating form.

"Why?" Gaara stopped walking. The meaning behind the question was entirely obvious to him without Ankoku being any more specific.

"There was a time when I would have killed you, and I would have taken great pleasure in doing it. I know better now, though. If you're looking for a reason that someone like you can understand, then just accept that I didn't need to kill you."

"And if I want the real reason?"

"The real reason…" Gaara started walking again, "is that I no longer live to kill."

"Ankoku… lost." Boufuu was twitching pretty badly, and his voice was much harsher than usual, but the sand-nins next to him didn't care about any of that. What they wanted more than anything was to rub it in.

"I told you that Gaara wouldn't lose to someone like that."

"No, you don't understand!" He turned to Temari and looked at her as though she was insane. "Ankoku lost! Ankoku doesn't lose!"

"Get over it already!" Kankurou's harsh tone took Temari by surprise, but Boufuu didn't even look over at him. "So your guy lost once! After fighting Gaara, just being able to use all of his limbs earns him bragging rights."

"But…" /Ankoku lost a fight!/ "Just who is this 'Gaara…?'"

Back on the other side of the stadium, Kurenai's eyes were still wide. Asuma's grin was so wide that he was barely able to keep the cigarette in his mouth, but he still managed not to say "I told you so." Of course, Ankoku's abilities scared the hell out of him, but so did Gaara's, so he figured that everything was balancing out.

"Hmm…" Kakashi had his hand under his chin, and his book was pocketed, which told everyone else that something was wrong.

"What is it Kakashi? You aren't worried about that rock-nin, are you?"

"Huh?" He realized that Asuma had been speaking to him, but he hadn't listened to a word that had been said. "No, that's not it… I was just wondering who will win in the match between Naruto and Sakura." No one sweat dropped, so he figured that Asuma had been talking about something else.

"You're kidding, right?"

Kakashi raised his hands defensively. "I'm not talking about who's stronger, I'm talking about who's going to win."

"Eh?" They all looked equally clueless, so he decided it wasn't worth the time it would take to explain it.

"Never mind… Let's just get ready for the match between Lee and Neji."

"Yoshi!" Gai struck his nice-guy pose again, "prepare for the most amazing display of taijutsu you'll ever see!" None of them even bothered to contest that, instead just letting Gai have his moment.

"Gaara!" Naruto ran over to his stoic friend the moment the sand user entered the room. "Yatta! Way to kick his ass!"

"It was nothing…" Barely resisting the urge to mirror Naruto's energetic smile, Gaara looked his friend in the eyes. "He wasn't very strong." The meaning behind that was lost on everyone except Naruto, whose smile grew even bigger.

"Yeah, there's no way you'd lose to a guy like that…" Hearing Genma announce the next match, he turned around just in time to see Lee jump over the railing. "Come on, we've gotta see this!" As he was curious about Lee, Gaara followed Naruto over to the edge of the room.

Neji, looking at the excited look on Lee's face, couldn't help but feel insulted. Sure, Lee had improved quite a bit since their last fight, but he was still Lee. He was barely one step up from Tenten! There was no way Neji was going to lose to anyone, let alone the Gai clone.

Smiling at his rival eagerly, Lee slid into his fighting stance and readied himself for the beginning of the fight. Nothing in the world meant more to him at that moment than beating Neji. Nothing. Death was more appealing than loss.

Sensing Lee's fervor, Genma decided not to keep him waiting. "Begin!" Neji's byakugan was activated almost instantly, and Lee had the distance between them covered just as quickly. After a green blur of an axe kick, which Neji easily side-stepped, Lee rolled under his rival's counter-attack and attempted a leg-sweep from the side. Of course, with the byakugan, Neji saw it coming without even turning his head.

Quickly jumping out of the way of Lee's attack, Neji rotated his body mid-air and slammed his heel into Lee's face. Or, at least, that was the intention. The moment that Lee noticed that he had missed, he rolled forward. His timing was perfect, allowing him to avoid Neji's counter completely, and he slammed his still-extended foot into Neji's stomach with the momentum from his forward roll. While the Hyuuga prodigy saw the attack coming, there was little he could do to stop it other than shield himself with his arms.

Not wanting to waste his momentary advantage, Lee chased Neji's retreating form. Because Neji had yet to stop tumbling over himself, the dropout knew that his attack wouldn't be blocked, so he decided to do as much damage as possible. "Konoha Dai Senpuu!"

Proving that he wasn't called a genius for nothing, Neji managed to bend forward mid-roll so that the first roundhouse went an inch above his head. The second was more problematic, as it was aimed for a location that the law of gravity said that he would soon occupy, but he managed to spring off of his hands before the kick arrived. Right when he was about to stabilize himself, he noticed that Lee's next attack was a crescent kick with the other leg, meaning that it was mere moments from hitting him in the side of the head. As it was the only option left to him, he threw his balance backward to avoid the strike, and he even managed to regain his balance on his hands and flip back into his normal stance and stepped back to avoid the final roundhouse.

Disappointed by his inability to land a solid blow on Neji, Lee jumped back to put some distance between them while he contemplated his next attack. His only real fear was that Neji would close his tenketsus, rendering him completely unable to attack.

Up in her stiff-backed chair, Tsunade was glad to see that Lee was back to fighting condition. Of course, that was to be expected after four months, but it had been quite a serious injury. Still, what really surprised her was his speed. Genin weren't supposed to be that fast, even taijutsu specialists… She watched as there were a few more exchanges between the two, all of which favored Lee, and eventually concluded one thing: if he ever drank sake in her presence, she was going to get the hell out of his way.

Annoyed by Lee's successes, Neji promised himself that he would land the next hit. He just stood there as Lee charged, and remained completely still as the kick neared him. At the last possible moment he released chakra from every tenketsu on his body and began to spin. "Kaiten!" Lee's foot was painfully deflected in the direction opposite its approach, and the kaiten ended just in time for Neji to close a few tenketsus before targeting Lee's unguarded back.

He was rolling forward, he couldn't move his right arm, and his left lung felt about ready to explode, but Lee's biggest concern was avoiding the next strike. On that point, he was a failure. Neji, having caught up with the tumbling Lee, landed another blast of chakra on his opponent, this time to the heart. While the pain was intense, Lee ignored it and jumped back to his feet.

"Quit pretending that you can win, Lee." Neji smirked, "there's no shame in giving up when you're outmatched."

"I was just about to tell you the same thing!"

Before Neji could even register that Lee had moved, a kick was hitting him under the chin. The result was that he was sent flying upward, completely defenseless, with Lee following close behind. He managed to close two tenketsus on Lee's side before the bandages restricted the movement in his arms, but it didn't seem to have any effect at all. Finally they both turned upside-down and began their spiraling plummet. It didn't take very long for them to reach the ground, and when they did Neji was launched out of his bandage prison.

After hitting the ground head-first, being submerged up to his waist, Neji was left extremely disoriented. He was dizzy, despite the fact that he couldn't see anything, and his memory of where he was and what was happening was murky, but what he really found perplexing was that he was still conscious. Considering the amount of pain that he was in, he couldn't imagine why he hadn't passed out. Deciding that it was best to search for a medic, he activated his byakugan and took a look around. Seeing Lee gave him a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, and the location seemed vaguely familiar, but he ignored all of that and pulled himself out of the ground.

As the crowd watched Neji sit down and look around, a bit of his blood dripping on the grass, they grew impatient. There was much booing, as well as many shouts at Lee to "finish him off." While Lee looked confusedly up at the part of the audience that contained his sensei, Neji's concussion was causing him quite a bit of confusion. Finish who off? Lee? Genma? Had he been fighting someone? The shouts were becoming louder and angrier, so he gathered his strength and charged the easier target of the two.

Of course, Lee wasn't in very good shape after using renge, so he took the blindsiding pretty hard. Luckily, Neji was so out of it that he didn't even think to make use of jyuuken, instead sticking to normal taijutsu. Almost immediately after punching Lee, Neji passed out from the pain. Genma nearly dropped his senbon in disbelief, but eventually decided that it was going to have to be called a tie. He waited over a minute, but Lee wasn't getting upt.

Just as he opened his mouth to make the call, Lee managed to get to his feet. Glad to see that he was going to get to announce a winner, Genma smirked. "Shousha: Rock Lee!"

"YATTA!" Gai's cheer was audible over the roar of the crowd, even to Lee. It was, for Lee, the assurance that he wasn't dreaming. He, the dropout, had defeated Neji, the Hyuuga genius, because of his hard work. His eyes watered as he fell to his knees, a big smile on his face. Quite simply, it was the happiest moment of his life.

"WAY TO EXPLODE, LEE!" Many of the people around Gai, including all of the jounin, had to cover their ears to prevent themselves from going deaf. "I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!"

"Gai, be quiet!" Amazingly, Gai heard Kakashi over his own screaming. Even more amazingly, he actually did what Kakashi asked. "He can't hear you from all the way up here, and I'm sure he wants a moment to himself anyway."

"Oh…" That made sense, so Gai retained his silence. Lee had essentially just achieved his dream, after all. Still, his pride in his student was overwhelming, even if the boy had used a kinjutsu which he had been expressly told not to use unless it was necessary.

Hiashi was staring open-mouthed at Neji's second loss to a dropout, while many of those around him cheered for Lee. Most of those who were cheering had no reason to cheer other than their dislike of Neji, who had gotten on their nerves in the previous exam. Hanabi, seeing her father's face, couldn't help but feel that he was overestimating his nephew. Neji was good, yes, but the best Hyuuga? Hardly.

A/N: Wow, just short of 400 reviews! Considering that this is only the ninth chapter, I think that's pretty cool! Well, anyway…

I originally intended to have four fights in this chapter (half of the tournament), but there were some… let's call them "time constraints." The next chapter will almost definitely have five fights, finishing the exam. Don't worry, I have no intention of having this span three whole chapters.

Sorry that the chapter's up so late, by the way. We only have the one modem, so it was a choice between pirating a wireless connection or waiting. As fun as it would be to leech off of someone else's home network, I decided to test that old saying ("patience is a virtue"). My conclusion is that, even if it is a virtue, it doesn't seem to be helping me at all… Oh well, I would have felt bad if I had taken the alternative, and it's still technically Wednesday here…

About the names of Shimaru's parents (although I doubt that many of you care). "Shien" means "dead circle" with the kanji that he spells it with ("死円"), but "shien" can also mean "support" if spelled with different kanji ("支援"). As for Shimaru's mom, "shichuu" means "in death" with my kanji choice ("死中"), but "shichuu" can also mean "support beam" with different kanji ("支柱"). In other words, both of Shimaru's parents could be mistaken for supports, but upon closer inspection… Well, I thought it was funny, and that's all that matters to me.

Again, a big thanks goes out to Lutris Argutiae for help with translation stuff. Without him there would have been some pretty horrendous translations in here… Thanks Lutris!

Concerning Ankoku: I didn't have much of a chance to reveal it in the chapter, as Boufuu doesn't know about it, but Ankoku has a unique genetic trait similar to that of Shodai Hokage. Shodai was able to control a jinchuuriki's chakra, and Ankoku can block out all sensory perception. Ankoku has the natural ability to maneuver his chakra through things so that he can manipulate objects he isn't touching, and Shodai could create trees and control them completely. The only difference is that Ankoku's abilities could (theoretically) be mimicked, but it would most likely require hand seals.

Now, you can't honestly tell me that you didn't already know the outcomes of these fights. Gaara has (at this point) only ever been hit by four people, made to bleed by two, and defeated by one. There was no way he was going to lose in the first round. Naruto is the main character, so he had to beat an original character (it's like a law or something), and Lee's skills completely trump Neji's. What good is the ability to close tenketsus when your opponent is moving too fast for you to hit them at all? All of that said, I think the rest of the fights are less predictable. I'm probably wrong, as I'm almost always wrong about that kind of thing, but we'll see.

And now, because I can, I'll ask you some questions!

Are my fight scenes alright? Now that they're longer, I'm hoping that you guys have a better opinion of them.

Did you find it as funny as I did that Naruto beat Kaen with extremely simple techniques? I was cracking up while writing certain parts of it.

Was this chapter of lower quality than usual? If you're wondering why I'm asking, see the pre-chapter a/n.

Did it bother you that Gaara didn't use many techniques?

Should Lee have taken his weights off rather than using renge? The reason that he left them on was that he wasn't protecting anyone…

Well, that's it for now. Thanks for reading!