The next morning came all to quickly for Naruto. As much as he wanted to take the day off and sleep in, he knew that he would have to spend extra time helping his team train since all three of them were in the finals, (something he planned on constantly reminding the other jounin instructors) not to mention the fact that the Hokage, in his infinite wisdom, had decided to send the original Ino-Shika-Cho trio on a long term spying mission, so training with family jutsu was out of the question for the genin. Because of this, Naruto settled for cursing at the sun for being to bright as he pulled himself out of bed while mentally wondering how far he could push his team before they keeled over and died from the grievous wounds he intended to inflict upon them. With really sadistic thoughts going through his mind, Naruto started his day.

Three hours later, Naruto found himself grinning at the three exhausted genin in front of him. Although they seemed on the verge of collapsing, he could easily see the determination in the three to continue , even as their bodies protested. Ino seemed even more pushy than normal, in her drive to beat Tenten, although Naruto had absolutely no clue why. Chouji wasn't nearly as enthused, but his easy victory over a much older foe in the preliminaries seemed to make him realize just how far he had improved in such a short time in Team Ten, and that was something that made him determined to continue. As for Shikamaru... he probably would have complained, but the near certainty that he would be facing Sabaku no Gaara seemed to be all the motivation that he needed. "Dying is to troublesome." He would later admit. Naruto was just about to start in on some lighter training for his team when he was delivered a message from the Hokage, delivered via carrier bird.


My wayward student (the perverted one, not the drunk or the snake) is back in town on business, and has requested that you meet up with him as soon as possible. You should know where to find him.


Naruto grinned despite himself. No matter what changes occurred, he would always see the old Hokage as his ojiisan. Deciding that now was as good a time as any to see his sensei of one week, Naruto prepared to depart to where he figured the self-proclaimed 'super pervert' would be.

"Alright guys, the Hokage has summoned me to a meeting. No clue when I get back," Here Naruto went into a thinking pose for a minute, before finally changing it back to his all to common 'sadistic instructor' face, "but since you guys are such wonderfully dedicated students, I have an idea of how to keep your training going full speed." Quickly biting his thumb, Naruto formed a set of hand seals, before finally slamming his palm into the ground.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" He yelled. The three genin shakily pulled themselves off the ground to see just what he was doing. When the smoke finally cleared, they adopted looks conveying extreme horror. Than again, could you blame them when they found themselves facing an armored toad the size of a small house?

"Ok guys have fun!" Naruto exclaimed happily as he turned to leave. "Oh right," he said, stopping himself and turning to the large frog, "don't kill them." With that, he vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving the trio of terrified genin alone with a very mean toad that appeared to be smirking evilly (although it is a bit hard to discern a frog's facial expressions) as he launched himself at them.

As the venerable Hokage had predicted, Naruto easily found the Toad-Sennin in the most obvious peeking location at Konoha's largest bathhouse. He briefly considered announcing his presence loudly, as to alert Jiraiya's location to the girls in the bath, but eventually decided that his genin team's mortality rate was high enough as it is, and didn't really need any added delays. Thus, he simply launched a bunch of senbon aimed at some painful locations in the direction of the man. Ninja senses kicking in, Jiraiya deftly leapt out of the way of the attack while turning to retaliate, but stopped once he saw the identity of his attacker.

"Feh, stupid gaki. Thats no way to interrupt a man in the middle of precious research." Scolded the elder man as he abandoned his position and approached Naruto.

"Would you rather I ran up to you and yell out some stupid greeting? What is more dangerous? A shinobi attack, or a horde of enraged females, including at least a handful of kunoichi." Naruto retorted.

"Hmm... You are wise beyond your years! You have proven to me that I indeed made the correct decision!" Seeing Naruto's confusion, the Toad-Sennin answered the unasked question. "I have decided to accept you as my apprentice!"

"Thats nice and all, but I am already a jounin. Jounin aren't apprentices. Hell, I am probably already pretty close to you in strength." Instead of going off about his own superiority, like Naruto was expecting, Jiraiya merely grinned, before holding up a finger in a lecturing gesture.

"That may be so, but do you honestly think the legendary three sannin got our ranks just by being excellent shinobi? Each sannin is known for unrivaled knowledge in a certain field of ability. Take Tsunade-hime for example, her abilities as a medic-nin are unrivaled, not only in Konoha, but in all of the entire Elemental Countries. Orochimaru-teme is only rivaled in his knowledge of jutsu by Sarutobi-sensei. As for me, I am one of the world's premiere experts on seals. If I were to die right now, Konoha would be without a capable seal master. Even the teme, who believes himself immortal, had an apprentice at one point in time. Every sannin has found an apprentice to pass down his or her talents. My original apprentice was the one who put that seal on your chest. Since hes dead, however, I need a new apprentice before I can finally retire, and guess what? I choose you!"

Naruto stared at the elder man for a minute. That actually made a great deal of sense. While he was already considered one of the strongest jounin in the village, he really lacked any skill that made himself unique, except for a few high profile ninjutsu. Although Naruto had ignored the idea for a while, instead focusing more on the here and now, he still aspired to live in his fathers footsteps as Hokage. Becoming a seal master would bring him closer to that dream.

"Well, I guess that makes sense." He finally admitted. "And normally I would accept, except I have a genin team to train, and I doubt that toad I left them with is a very effective training tool..." Jiraiya quickly waved off his concerns.

"Ah, thats alright. For the most part, learning about seals is just learning about each each seal, ways to combine them into making bigger seals, and knowing which seal to use in any given situation. Just send one of those Kage Bunshins that you love so much while you train your brats. I am curious though, which frog did you leave them with?" After Naruto described the toad, Jiraiya grinned, "You do know that that particular frog likes to go into a rather dangerous berserker state when it gets hurt, right?" At hearing that, Naruto's eyes widened to inhuman sizes.

"Oh shit..."


The next month went pretty standard for the four members of Team Ten. After three days in the hospital recovering from near fatal amphibian related injuries, the three genin went back to the same rigorous training routine that Naruto would always impose upon them, albeit with a massive increase in evil glares and focused killing intent directed at the young frog summoner. While he knew there was a good chance his students would lose, as the finals held many exceptional genin, he knew they were more than capable of holding the rank of chunin. (Of course in his opinion chunin are just genin with a little intelligence and one or two decent jutsu, something most of them had when they left the academy) During the few off-days that Naruto allowed, Ino would often be seen acting as a sensei for Sakura. Privately, Naruto was glad that the pink-haired kunoichi had swallowed her pride enough to seek help. Konoha needed exceptional shinobi, and Sakura had the potential to be very skilled with genjutsu and medical jutsu. For Naruto, the weeks were spent in a similar way, although he also managed to learn the basics of sealing from Jiraiya, while also managing to work on perfecting his newer jutsu which he was close to mastering.

During one of those lessons with Jiraiya, the Toad Hermit informed his protege of what he had been doing the past year or so, besides writing new volumes of his perverted series. Apparently, he had been tracking the mysterious group that was known to be hunting down the jinchuuriki. Although he had little info on the members of the group, he had managed to learn enough about the organization to know the strength of the average member, (brutally strong) along with the size of the packs that they traveled in (two). More importantly to Naruto, he was also able to provide a name: Akatsuki. Although he didn't know much more than that, Jiraiya admitted one of the reason's for teaching Naruto was to prepare him for the trials to come, knowing that Akatsuki was just about to start hunting the bijuu, and that it was common knowledge that Naruto carried one.

Finally, the day of the chunin exam arrived. Being a jounin, Naruto was required to go to the arena a few hours ahead of time. Naruto managed to catch snippets of random conversations going on amongst the assembled jounin as they prepared the arena for the expected crowds, including a rather unsettling rumor to the fate of the proctor of the preliminaries. Naruto found the idea of a Leaf jounin being murdered in Konoha to be a bit suspicious, to say the least. It was then that Naruto felt a presence behind him. The killing intent being emanated by the person, while feeling unfocused, was strong enough to put Naruto on guard as he turned. He was not surprised to see that the person was the young Suna jinchuuriki, Sabaku no Gaara.

"Those words you spoke back then... how true were they?" Gaara asked, with a quiet voice that hinted at barely controlled madness.

"Every single word I said was truth." Naruto stated plainly. He was not going to pass up this opportunity to help out a fellow jinchuuriki, especially with the threat of Akatsuki looming on the horizon.

"How? How were you able to endure the constant pain? How can you do it when it hurts so much!!!" Gaara yelled the last part out, causing a few nearby shinobi to turn to the two, before quickly going back to their own business.

Naruto smiled sadly, "It is hard, I know. The only way to endure is to believe in a better tomorrow. If you give up hope, you are better off dead."

Judging by the intense look in Gaara's eyes, Naruto could tell that he was listening intently to his words, but judging by the swirling mass of sand, he was still angry and unconvinced. "Why must we suffer? Why do you not make them feel our pain?" The red-haired shinobi asked through clenched teeth.

Naruto sighed. "If not us, than who? In order to stop the cycle of hate, we must rise above it. It isn't easy, but once you can show the world that you aren't the monster that they see you as, things will get better."

Gaara was quiet for a few minutes. "And... they accept you?" Although it was phrased as a question it was more of a statement. The Kyuubi container nodded confirmation, "What about the voices?"

Naruto blinked in confusion. "Uhh... what voices?" He mentally scolded himself for sounding like a moron after giving such an inspiring speech, but he had absolutely no idea what Gaara was talking about.

"The voices. Always telling me to kill and when I sleep 'it' takes over my body."

A look of understanding appeared on Naruto's face. "I see... can I see the seal that holds your beast?" He asked. Gaara looked confused for a moment, before nodding and showing Naruto his seal. Seeing it, Naruto scowled darkly, "Whoever sealed the bijuu into you did a really poor job of it. My knowledge of seals is limited, but even I can tell the inadequacies of this seal. Although I don't think I can help you with it," Gaara looked crestfallen at that revelation, but Naruto paid him no mind, "my sensei should be able to reinforce it to properly contain the creature. I will warn you though, if we do get the seal fixed, you may lose some of your control with sand." Gaara nodded without hesitation with a look of hope that seemed out of place on him. Naruto grinned, "Alright. Come see me after these exams are over. Oh, and don't kill my students when you guys fight."

With the conversation concluded, Gaara returned to his siblings, with a small smile on his face. His teammates initially cringed, before realizing it wasn't the homicidal grin that he usually wore, but a true smile that reached his eyes. "Temari, Kankuro, whatever happens, do not participate in this foolish invasion, or I will kill you myself." His two siblings looked confused, but quickly decided that disobeying their Kage and village is less dangerous than disobeying their little brother, so both quickly nodded assent.

It was a few hours later when all the participants had arrived and the finals were slated to begin. The jounin scanned the area. In the Kage booth, Naruto saw the Hokage, along with another man who he assumed was the Kazekage, based on the kanji for 'wind' on his robe. In the VIP section Naruto noticed a large smattering of important civilians, including the Daiymo of Fire Country. The stadium itself was filled to the brink with both shinobi and civilians. With a well trained eye he was able to pick out two squads of ANBU members stationed in the area for security. 'Thats odd, for an event of this magnitude there should be at least double that...' He pondered the security for a few seconds, but didn't pay much heed to it as the replacement proctor decided that that was the perfect time to start the test. The man was garbed in standard jounin ware, but was chewing on a senbon needle.

"Alright, I am the proctor of these final exams. The rules are the same as in the preliminaries, but please refrain from killing," here he shot a pointed glance at Gaara, "as the spectators would rather not wait for us to clean up somebody's mess. Oh, and because of an unfortunate...accident, Kinuta Dosa is unable to compete in the finals, therefore the final match of round one will be Sabaku no Gaara and Nara Shikamaru." Said Leaf genin groaned loudly in protest, but the proctor ignored it. "The first match will be between Rock Lee and Hyuuga Hinata."

The two combatants made their way down to the arena. The crowd buzzed excitedly in anticipation of the match. Although there was strong disappointment that the last Uchiha had failed to make the finals, the heiress of the proud Hyuuga clan fighting in the finals made up for it, somewhat. Surprisingly, Naruto found himself seated near somebody he knew.

"Hey Neji," he yelled to the Hyuuga prodigy, who was just a few seats away, "how do you see this match playing out?" If anyone knew what to expect, it would be Neji, seeing as how he is both related to Hinata and on Lee's team.

Neji frowned slightly, "I am actually not quite sure what to expect. If Lee goes all out, even I have difficulties in beating him," 'Although I always do,' he quickly thought, "but he often refuses to show his true strength, and I have no idea if he will or not in his match against Hinata-sama." Neji uttered the last suffix hesitantly, as if he was unused to saying it. That much was true, actually. After returning to the Hyuuga compound following the finish of the preliminaries, Neji had barricaded himself in his quarters to contemplate the days events. When the current clan head, Hyuuga Hiashi, had asked about it, Hinata had told the stern man of the events that had transpired. Seeing that the opportunity was right, Hiashi had given Neji a scroll, written by his father, claiming that his death wasn't an act of fate, but an act of defiance against fate. This led to Neji coming to the conclusion that the hate he had held for the Hyuuga main family was misplaced. Of course its not easy to change yourself when you realize you have been living a lie, as Neji was finding out. Still, he was trying.

"Why wouldn't he show his true ability? Isn't this," here Naruto swept a hand to indicate the large assembly, "what he has been training for?"

Neji shrugged slightly, "The best I can explain it... he has his own form of chivalry." Now Naruto was really confused, and apparently it showed as Neji decided to tack on the one thing that will explain it all, "It's a Gai thing."

"Ah. That still makes no sense, but than again, Gai has never struck me as the sensible type, so I guess I can understand it. At least we can't hear his preachings about the 'Flames of Youth' over this crowd." In the ultimate twist of irony, right after Naruto spoke those words the booming voice of Maito Gai cut through the collective noise of the entire stadium like a hot knife through butter. Naruto cringed slightly as Neji turned a fierce Hyuuga glare on him, "Than again, I have been wrong before..."

Down in the arena, a very enthused Lee (having been reinforced by Gai-sensei's charismatic speech, of course) was attempting to converse with his foe. "Salutations, cousin of my eternal rival! I hope you are ready to let the flames of your youth blossom into a most spectacular display of youthful combat!"

"Uh?" Not exactly the response fitting a Hyuuga, but it was the best that Hinata could come up with. Between her father, Iruka, Naruto, and Kurenai, Hinata had learned a lot over the years, but nothing they taught her seemed to be of much help in a battle against somebody who may in fact be a raving lunatic. She shot a quick glance to her father, who was in the stands with her little sister Hanabi. The mortified look on the normally impassive Hiashi was enough to tell Hinata that he was just as alarmed at this confrontation as she was. Still, she was a Hyuuga, and wouldn't let such... unique distractions to affect her battle performance.

Based on a few hints that Neji had dropped about his unique teammate, alongside her own observations, Hinata came to one conclusion about the genin known as Rock Lee. 'He's fast!' In this situation for the young Hyuuga, the best offense was a strong defense. If she could just manage to inflict a glancing blow on a leg than he would be quite vulnerable. Still, even with her Byakugan active, it would be no small feat...

Despite outward appearances hinting at the contrary, Rock Lee was no dummy. After countless spars against his teammate, Lee had a very extensive knowledge of the Byakugan and the Hyuuga jyuuken style. If Hinata were anything like Neji than she would probably rely on counter-attacks hoping to disable him before he can pummel her into submission. Still, in a battle between two pure taijutsu fighters, its not like he had much alternative. He could, however, minimize risk by relying more on feints and hit and run tactics, placing a heavier emphasis on evasion...

With a loud battle cry, (something about the flames of youth) Lee charged forth. Just as he was about to enter Hinata's taijutsu range he instead swerved off to the left side before unleashing a punishing roundhouse kick. Even though her eyes could clearly follow the spandex-clad genin's moves, her body felt sluggish and unresponsive when it came to dodging his furious strikes. Still, she managed to pull it off...barely. By the time she had recovered from the attack and was poised to launch a counter offensive Lee had already moved out of combat range. Letting out a small growl, (completely unfit for the future head of the Hyuuga) Hinata had to struggle slightly to keep her feeling of annoyance from causing her to do something rash. 'Although he made me look silly in that first strike, it had to have taken more energy out of him. Just stay calm.' With those thoughts she allowed herself to remain composed.

About a dozen more exchanges went by like this, and a slightly labored Hyuuga Hinata decided that her strategy was not working. Apparently, Rock Lee had limitless energy. 'I don't get it. He has been running around like a madman probing my defenses the entire time and he isn't even breathing hard yet? Are his eyebrows some kind of kekkai genkai that gives the user limitless energies? I need to rethink my plans...' One of the things that Hinata had noticed was that Lee had a tendency to attack from her right side. She was fairly certain that it was more a force of habit than any sort of nefarious plot on the side of the older genin, so she was pretty sure that she could take advantage of the fact. It was risky, but risks are needed to succeed.

As Hinata predicted, Lees next assault was a feint in order to attack from her right side. Instead of sitting back and attempting to dodge, Hinata took preemptive action and ran forward, closing the gap between the two while Lee was caught flat-footed. Knowing that he would not be able to evade the first strike while also knowing that Hinata was going to target his legs, Lee decided to block the strike, sacrificing one of his arms in exchange for keeping his speed advantage. Lee countered with another of his powerful kicks, which Hinata successfully blocked, but not before staggering back a few feet from the force of the strike, giving Lee time to fall back.

Lee grimaced slightly as he was barely able to move his right arm. 'This is bad.' He thought,'I won't even be able to remove my weights easily with only one arm. I could try using it, but I don't really want to hurt Hinata-san, not to mention that it wouldn't be quite as effective with only one arm.' Here Lee blinked, coming to a startling realization, 'Actually, with one arm I probably won't be able to inflict permanent damage... forgive me Gai-sensei!' With his plan in mind, Lee focused deep within in self, searching for the lock that he possessed the key for...

With her Byakugan active, Hinata the rush of power going through her foe before any of the others. She gulped nervously as she attempted to find a more defensible position. Throughout the arena, those who knew about the hachimon were shocked that a genin could open them. Lee's sensei and idol, Gai, looked slightly pensive, before giving a short nod, as if signaling his agreement of Lee's action.

To the normal spectator, Lee appeared to have vanish into thin air, but with her kekkai genkai Hinata was able to keep track of him...barely. Still, all the preparation in the world proved for naught as Lee seemingly casually broke through her guard with an upwards kick, sending the Hyuuga into the air. With his newly acquired speed, Lee easily managed to catch up with the air-borne Hyuuga, before using his one good hand to loosely wrap her in bandages. With that done, Lee wrapped her into a hug, before starting to spin rapidly as the two descended to the ground. As the ground became nearer, Hinata's struggles against her restraints grew more fierce. With one arm disabled, Lee's hold was much weaker than normal. Because of this, Hinata was able to free one arm, allowing her one jyuuken strike into Lee's unprotected stomach, before the two slammed into the ground.

The two hit the ground like a meteor, causing a large dust cloud to rise from the newly created crater. Nobody knew what to expect. Most of the experienced shinobi knew the power of the Omote Renge. Of course they also knew the harmful effects of forcing your body past its limits. Not to mention that last jyuuken strike looked potent. Most expected the end result was a draw, but that theory was scattered like the dust as a silhouette was seen slowly pulling itself out of the large crater.

When the dust finally cleared, it revealed the haggard, but still spirited form of Rock Lee.

The proctor made his way to the crater, checking to make sure the battle was actually over. The unconscious, but relatively uninjured body of Hyuuga Hinata confirmed it. With that, he declared Lee the victor. Most expected the normally exuberant genin to start yelling like Gai, but to their surprise, the battle had apparently sapped his strength, as he quietly made his way to the stands, albeit with a large grin on his face.

The crowd cheered heartily at the match. While Hinata's loss to a relative unknown cost a lot of betters money, the match was enthralling enough for few to actually care. After a brief intermission, the proctor cleared his throat before announcing the next match. "The next match will be between Sabaku no Kankuro and Akimichi Chouji!" He stated over the din of the crowd. While Kankuro had originally been planning on forfeiting, in order to keep his abilities a secret for the upcoming invasion, with Gaara's demand that he not participate in the war, he decided that it couldn't hurt to fight in this battle. Grabbing his favorite puppet, Karisu, Gaara's older brother made his way to the arena.

Chouji was already waiting for him in the arena. Unlike in the preliminaries, Chouji had opted to bring his zanbatou with him. The massive sword was resting comfortably on his back, usable at a moments notice. He had also decided on removing his weights before the fight. While he was by means a fast person without his weights, from what little he knew of his foes puppeteering abilities, projectile weapons and poison attacks were his primary concerns. Any extra boost to his agility would be essential when it came to avoiding the attacks.

The second the battle began, Chouji launched a kunai at his foe, in an attempt to force Kankuro to use one of his puppet's tricks prematurely. The puppeteer easily evaded the throw, before letting out a small sneer. "Is that the best you got, fatty?" He asked, in an attempt to make the Leaf-nin lose focus. While this may have worked against Chouji in the past, the words had no effect on him now. Before he became a genin, Chouji had felt insecure about himself. If somebody had mentioned his faults, Chouji had a tendency to get emotional while attempting to vehemently deny the facts. It wasn't until after the academy that his mindset changed. As he became stronger, the need to feel insecure grew smaller, till he was eventually able to come to grips with the facts. It was true, he had in fact been fat and still was, to a lesser extent. While before that thought would have plagued him, now he instead knew to focus on his strengths. Yes, he was big, but with that size came strength. He knew few people his own age who could easily swing his large sword or punch through a stone wall like he could. So while before the Suna shinobi's comments would have forced him into denial, causing him to think irrationally, he was able to stay calm, while working on a plan of his own.

Chouji threw a smoke bomb a few feet in front of him, presumably in order to unleash his plan without being seen. As the smoke spread throughout the area, Kankuro withdrew a bit in an attempt to gain distance from his foe. His sister had been defeated by a mere smoke bomb by being to aggressive, so he decided to err on the side of caution. A minute or so passed with nothing happening, causing Kankuro to get a bit twitchy. When the smoke finally cleared, it revealed the Akimichi right where he had been when he threw the bomb. The main difference, however, was the fact that the large genin was currently making hand seals at a rapid rate. 'Was he doing that the entire time?' Pondered Kankuro uneasily, 'A jutsu that takes that many seals... I have to stop him!' Taking control of his puppet with chakra strings, Kankuro launched a trio of apparently poisonous senbon from a compartment on the puppets chest. He didn't expect them to hit, but he was hoping that it was enough to stop him from completing the dangerous looking jutsu.

He was right.

Seeing the incoming attack, Chouji aborted his jutsu while quickly rolling to the right, causing the senbon to miss. As he got back to his feet, Chouji drew his zanbatou before going into a dead charge. Eyes widening slightly, Kankuro had his puppet launch volley after volley of projectile weapons at the Akimichi. Using a burst of speed that few in the arena had expected from the large person, Chouji was able to avoid all the attacks. As he got closer, the puppeteer smirked. He didn't think he would have to use Karisu's strongest attack against the plump looking genin in the beginning, but it seemed as if he would. Mouth opened wide, the puppet unleashed a large cloud of poison, engulfing the Akimichi within seconds. Chouji's charge ground to a halt as he started coughing uncontrollably. 'The poison isn't fatal if treated, but its more than enough to win this fight.' Kankuro mused as he watched his foe roll on the ground while struggling to breath.

That was when the Chouji on the ground vanished with a small 'poof.'

As the real Akimichi Chouji burst from underground, he couldn't help but feel elation at his plans overwhelming success. He had taken a great risk in making that Kage Bunshin, seeing as how it was a large dent in his chakra reserves, but it had paid off. While the fake Chouji started performing random hand seals to confuse and alarm his foe, the real Chouji had gone underground in order to stealthily close the gap with his foe. With the success of his plan, Chouji now found himself in striking range of his foe. 'I guess after hanging out with Shikamaru and Naruto all this time I was bound to pick up a few things.'

While Chouji had no intentions of killing his foe, he had no qualm against using his zanbatou on the helpless Karisu. Kankuro attempted to withdraw his puppet before the attack, but he was far to late. With one mighty blow, Karisu crumpled to the ground, severed in two. In a last ditch effort at victory, Kankuro tried commanding the larger half of his puppet to attack. Seeing his plan, Chouji unleashed another hack on the doll. Seeing victory as a very slim thing and not wanting to damage his puppet any further, Kankuro raised his hand in a gesture of surrender.

"Winner, Akimichi Chouji!" Stated the proctor, causing Chouji to beam. The crowd responded positively to the battle. Although it wasn't as exciting as the previous fight, seeing a Leaf-nin beat a shinobi from another village was something that everybody in the stands (save the few foreigners in attendance) enjoyed seeing.

As the two kunoichi involved in the third match made their way to the arena, the people in the stadium started to converse amongst each other. With his keen sense of hearing, Naruto picked out one of the conversations between two chunin.

"So who do you got for this one?" The first man asked.

"Eh," Naruto assumed the second person shrugged here, "I don't know much about either one, but I did put five-thousand on the bunned girl."

"Oh? And why did you pick her, Ryu?" Said the first person, with a hint of amusement in his voice.

"Honestly, I just went with the experience. Plus it doesn't hurt that her jounin instructor is Maito Gai."

"I dunno. The Yamanaka's sensei is the Kazama kid. I heard from Yuki-chan that he was even crazier than Gai. Apparently she saw them training once and that the routine was almost as bad as the one that we go through. And we have been chunin for four years!"

"Your kidding?" Ryu yelped incredulously. "Do you think he remembered that not everybody has a nine-tailed power source sealed inside of them?"

Naruto blinked a few times at that last comment. Grudgingly he did have to admit to himself that he rarely considered the fact when devising an effective training schedule for his team. 'Still, its not like it was a big deal, right?' As he thought that he started to consider the sheer amount of times that one of the trio either passed out from exhaustion or ended up in the hospital from some sort of grievous injury. 'Well... at least they all survived...barely.' With that, he shrugged. After all it was, in the words of one of his students, to troublesome to really think about.

Down in the arena, Ino was currently glaring at her foe. Even after a month, the idea of her sensei giving priceless weapons to some other kunoichi irked her to no end. It was especially annoying considering that she had been training with blades since being assigned to Team Ten, which means that she would have had dibs on it! Of course a jealous part of Ino's mind didn't care about the sword itself, just the fact that her sensei was getting a little to chummy with another girl of their age...

Having a vague idea as to what was causing her foe such inner turmoil, Tenten decided to rub it in. "I see you have a sword also. It has been a while since I sparred with another kenjutsu user. As a matter of fact, the last time I can recall doing so was against Naruto-kun, shortly before he gave me the Raijin." She placed a special emphasis on the suffix which helped to rile up her blonde foe even more.

"Hmph, just because he gave you a stupid sword doesn't mean you are special. He probably just pitied your atrocious skills. Your just jealous that hes my sensei while you are stuck with that eyebrowed-mutant!" Countered Ino, causing the slightly older genin to narrow her eyes dangerously.

"That may be true," Tenten conceded, "which is why I will beat you and make chunin. That way I will be free from my team. Seeing as how he is one of the few kenjutsu masters in the village, I may indeed spend a lot of my time with him. Not to mention he doesn't seem like a bad guy at all..." She trailed off. Although she really didn't know the young Kazama that well at all, she did mean what she said.

The conversation between the two continued to get more and more violent with each exchange, causing the poor proctor to sweatdrop. "I didn't know I was getting paid to referee a cat fight." He muttered to himself. Unfortunately, his words carried surprisingly well in the noisy arena, causing both girls to hear. If looks could kill, the glare coming from the two kunoichi would have caused the jounin to choke to death on his own senbon. Shaking off the feeling of dread, he gave the signal to start.

Almost immediately, Ino was forced to dive to the side to avoid a quickly launched barrage of pointy projectiles from the weapon's mistress. Tenten didn't relent, unleashing wave after wave of kunai and shuriken. While Ino did manage to avoid any serious damage from the relentless assault, she didn't emerge fully unscathed. 'Grr... I know I can't beat her with missiles, but facing off against that damnable sword in melee is suicide. I don't know any genjutsu that would be effective in this situation, so I guess I will need to win using ninjutsu.' Of course Ino knew that it would be tricky, seeing as she didn't possess that many ninjutsu techniques. Squaring her shoulders while deflecting a shuriken that came a little to close to her face with a kunai, she prepared to stay on the defensive until the opportunity to counter arose...

On the other side, Tenten was enjoying her current success immensely. Although she had been caught off guard by her foes surprising speed, it wasn't nearly at Lee's level, so she was able to adjust. She narrowed her eyes in frustration as Ino pulled off a rather dazzling acrobatic display to evade a kunai that looked destined for her leg. Although her weapons supply was nearly limitless while Ino's endurance was not, Tenten did not relish the idea of giving Ino the chance to come up with a plan to turn the tides. With that thought in mind, the kunoichi of Team Gai pulled out two identical scrolls in preparation for her strongest technique.

Ino narrowed her eyes at this most recent development. Although she hid it as much as she could, she was getting very fatigued from the constant evasion. As Tenten started to form hand seals, Ino had a funny feeling that the next few seconds will be the deciding ones of the battle. With a cry of "Soshoryu," the two scrolls exploded like a pair of over sized smoke bombs. The blonde kunoichi watched in morbid fascination as a pair of smoky dragons emerged from the smoke. As the duo reached the height of their flight they changed back into their scroll forms. Leaping into the air, Tenten started to rapidly pull out a variety of weapons, which she launched at Ino.

As she watched the cloud of weapons rapidly advance on her, Ino searched for a means for escape, while making a mental note to thank Shikamaru. Being around her teammates for so long caused a few of their habits to rub off on her, apparently including Shikamaru's ability to remain lazily calm in the face of near-certain death. Unfortunately, every directions that she looked held nothing except incoming weapons, other than down of course. 'Wait... Down!!' Ino grinned in triumph as she, like Chouji before, went under the earth for cover from the incoming attack.

As soon as the barrage was finished, Ino emerged from the underground much closer to where Tenten had landed after using her attack. Since she still had strings attached to all of the weapons, it was a simple matter for Tenten to refocus the weapons on her opponent. During this time, however, Ino had not been sitting by idly, instead forming the seals for her family's primary jutsu, the Shintenshin. Because of the close proximity, alongside the fact that her foe was stationary, she was able to score a hit with the slow moving jutsu, easily forcing herself into the mind of her foe.

That was when Ino, inside of Tenten's body, realized the dangerous situation that she was in. The volley of weapons was still heading towards her now abandoned body. She couldn't just stop the attack either, because most of the weapons had detached themselves from the string because of the lack of focus caused during that brief period where she was taking control of the body. There wasn't nearly enough time to just cancel the Shintenshin, either. Seeing no other alternative, 'Tenten' threw herself on the prone body of Ino, covering the vital locations on both kunoichi's bodies.

The end result was rather predictable, as both bodies were heavily damaged by the assault. Neither were in any condition to continue, so the proctor had no choice except to end the fight in a draw. Medical teams hastily took the two bloody genin to the arena infirmary.

"Will Nara Shikamaru and Sabaku no Gaara please make their way to the arena." Called out the proctor, much to the chagrin of the shadow user. From where Naruto was sitting, he could clearly see the indecision on Shikamaru's face and for once couldn't blame him. Still, he wasn't about to let his final student forfeit before even fighting.

"Oy, Shikamaru," yelled Naruto, causing many heads to turn in his direction, "I had Gaara promise not to kill you, so go fight!" Hearing that, Shikamaru sweatdropped, 'Thats awfully encouraging to know that my sensei has absolutely no faith in me.' Here he took a quick glance at the emotionless face of Gaara, who had used his Suna Shunshin to teleport onto the battlefield, and shuddered slightly, 'Still, I guess I should be grateful. It's not like I think I can win either.' With that in mind, he lazily strolled down to the battlefield, much to the chagrin of the impatient crowd.

The two fighters made an amusing contrast to each other. On one side was Gaara, looking every bit the psychotic super killing machine that he is. Opposite of him, lazily standing there with hands in pocket, was Shikamaru. Deciding that the young Nara was as ready as he was going to be, the signal to begin was given.

Right off the bat Shikamaru was running for his life, as wave after wave of sand came crashing down on him. Dodging the attack, the Nara sent a tendril of shadows toward his opponent. Gaara never flinched as the shadow easily attached itself to him. Shikamaru couldn't help but think that it was to easy, but there was nothing else to do but to follow the course. Drawing a kunai, Shikamaru deftly launched it at the prone jinchuuriki. Shikamaru had been expecting many things, but the sand that formed to shield the Suna-shinobi was not one of them. Narrowing his eyes slightly, he launched another attack, this one being a trio of shuriken. Again, Gaara remained unharmed as the sand shielded him from the attack. Although Shikamaru knew he could hold the Suna genin for a few minutes, he released the Kagemane, seeing the futility in his head on attack.

Yet again Shikamaru found himself flying around the now ruined battleground in an attempt to dodge the blasts of sand headed at him, while attempting to think up a plan to get around the shield of sand that Gaara seemed to possess. 'From what I saw his shield uses the same sand each time. I may not have the speed or strength to overcome it, but perhaps attacking from different angles at the same time will cause his defense to either miss an attack or stretch itself thin enough that I can penetrate it? Even if this fails I can at definitely use the brief respite. Leaping to avoid a particularly dangerous sand attack, Shikamaru decided to test his hypothesis.

Using his sensei's trademark jutsu, Shikamaru formed a lone kage bunshin, which he had retreat to safety. After doing this, he again unleashed his shadow on the still motionless Shukaku container. Again he trapped Gaara with his Kagemane. With this accomplished, his kage bunshin circled around his foe, coming to a stop directly behind him. Once they were in position, both Shikamarus pulled out a kunai, before attaching an exploding tag to the throwing knives. Because he was being controlled, Gaara mimicked the actions, but since he lacked a kunai holster, Shikamaru had no fear of retaliation. Both master and clone launched their kunai at the same moment. The strategist of Team Ten watched with some satisfaction as the sand shield easily stopped his kunai while letting the bunshin's kunai go unabated. The knife embedded itself into Gaara's back, but the Suna shinobi gave no indication of being hurt. That changed as the weapon exploded, sending Gaara flying head over heels.

As he picked himself off the ground, Gaara stared at his foe with an expression of disbelief. Although that last attack failed to penetrate his Suna no Yoroi, it still hurt like hell! Gaara could barely remember the last time he felt physical pain. Needless to say, the demon within him was screaming for blood, but Gaara was just able to refrain from unleashing the power of the Ichibi no Shukaku and turning the Leaf-nin into a bloody mess, as he had promised the other jinchuuriki.

Shikamaru sighed as he watched his foe rise to his feet. For a second there he thought his plan had been successful, but it was not to be. What kind of psycho has not one, but two layers of nearly impenetrable defenses anyway? Thankfully, one of Shikamaru's best traits was his lack of an ego. Because of this, he was easily able to come to grips with the fact that he was horribly outclassed in this fight. 'I honestly doubt my Kagemane would have held him for long if he wanted to get free.' He mused grimly. Still, its not like he really coveted the rank of chunin, merely seeing it as a way to get his mother to stop nagging at him for a while. With that thought in mind, he raised his hand as a gesture of surrender.

Thats when a large-scale genjutsu was cast in the arena, promptly followed by many explosions.

'Just as I was about to go lay down and watch clouds, some bastard decided to invade. How troublesome...'


Omote Renge: Initial Lotus

Suna Shunshin: Sand Body Flicker

Suna no Yoroi: Armor of Sand

A/N: Finally got this one completed! Sorry for the delay after promising to not take so long last chapter, but I wasn't expecting this one to drag on as long as it did. Not to mention I have discovered that it is insanely hard to sit and write for long stretches of time when its so unbearably cold. Useless winter. I didn't even give this chapter a thorough proofread because of the coldness seeping through my bodies. Hopefully its not to bad off.

Parts of this chapter may seem rushed, but thats because it was. Writing about things that happen in canon is so utterly dull. As much as I wanted to skip the entire chunin exam arc, I just didn't see a way to do it feasibly. I managed to put my own spin on it by coming up with mostly different fights, but it was still a tedious process. Thankfully, its finally over, and even though theres still a few crucial canon arcs to go before I can go all original again, I don't think they will be nearly as dull for me to write. Another thing that annoyed the hell out of me these last few chapters was the fact that this fic was quickly becoming a team ten-centric fic, when it was (and will be once again) a Naruto-centric story. While everybody loves the Ino-Shika-Cho... this isn't their story. They will still be the most used characters in this story, (aside from Naruto) but now that the exams are over, expect their roles to be diminished.