The finalists of the chuunin selection exams stood in the middle of the arena, while the sold out crowd yelled and hollered in anticipation of the fights to come

The finalists of the chuunin selection exams stood in the middle of the arena, while the sold out crowd yelled and hollered in anticipation of the fights to come. Despite the lack of Uchiha Sasuke, (though not for a lack of trying on some council member's parts), the turn out was spectacular, daimyos from all elemental countries had come to watch the spectacle and the Kazekage would be there in person as well. Down in the arena, Hinata could almost feel the emotion and anxiousness roll off the crowd, they wanted the fights to get underway…in particular, they wanted her fight to begin.

It had come as a surprise to the Hyuuga heiress that her match was billed as the marquee match-up in this final round, and not Shino vs. Neji, or her brother against Sabaku no Gaara. The draw of a match up featuring the heiress of the strongest clan in Konoha, and the eldest son of the sitting Kazekage, was just too great to pass up, and the total sum of money placed on that match alone was mind numbingly large.

Not surprisingly, the odds were heavily against 'Naruto', though that hadn't stopped Hiashi from betting on his own son. Though the amount was rather small, he stood to gain nearly thirty times his bet when his son won.

The proctor for this portion of the exam, Shiranui Genma, cleared his throat to get the gennin's attention.

"Due to a perceived uneven distribution of 'quality' matches, there will be no set order of matches. You're opponent will stay the same, but the order in which you fight is no longer assured to be what you were told it was." He announced; causing Rock Lee to shout something about wanting to go first to show how youthful he was.

Genma looked up to the special box, reserved for the Hokage and his guests, and upon receiving the signal to begin, snapped his fingers and an electronic display lit up on the wall of the stadium. Randomly, the names of the different contestants began to cycle on the board, until eventually it slowed down and eventually stopped at the first match.

Rock Lee vs. Inuzuka Kiba.

The mini clone of Maito Gai yelled in joy and waited for the other contestants to reach the box where they would wait for their matches.

Just before the signal to begin was given, Kiba, being the overly brash and self absorbed person he is, decided to try and play some mind games with his opponent.

"You should just give up right now!" He boasted, while Akamaru eyed the…odd boy his master was supposed to fight. "You wore the wrong color spandex for this fight, there isn't enough foliage for you to hide in, and besides, Akamaru's nose would find you faster than the Yondaime!"

Lee just smiled at his comrade's mistaken interpretation of his choice in clothing.

"Kiba-san, I'm afraid you are mistaken! I don't wear this most youthful color because I need to blend in with the trees; I wear it because it is the color of youth and vitality!"

Just then, Genma gave the signal to begin, and…well, suffice it to say that Kiba didn't last very long. In fact, he lasted exactly two kicks and one punch. The first foot caught him completely by surprise, right in the stomach, launching the Inuzuka backwards, towards the wall at high velocity. The second kick launched him upward, and the follow up punch to the face caused the young man to impact with the wall of the arena, mercifully sending him into unconsciousness and ending the rather one sided match. Total time, five seconds.

Murmurs and hushed whispers rippled through the crowd. That was the dead last of the previous graduating class? What had Gai done to the boy to bring him up to this level? More importantly, how powerful were his teammates?

Kiba was removed from the arena and taken to a first aid tent to be tended to, while Lee reveled in his victory by doing victory laps around the stadium…on one hand…backwards. Anyway, once Genma had convinced the bubbling and bouncing boy that he must return to the box and allow the next fight on, the murmuring had died down a bit, as the display board sprang to life again.

Hyuuga Hinata vs. Sabaku no Kankuro.

The most lucrative fight and it was the second one to be held! Hinata, after receiving well wishes from her friends and brother, headed down to the arena floor by leaping onto the railing of the box and walking down the wall, impressing many of the shinobi in the stadium. While it might seem like an easy feat if one knows the tree climbing exercise, it is actually twice as hard to walk down a surface, than to walk up one. Not only is gravity pulling you down to earth, but your momentum is now heading earthwards, and not skywards. The slower one can walk down a wall or other vertical surface, the better chakra control they are showing, and Hinata was almost crawling down the wall.

Though he tried not to show it, Kankuro was nervous. First off, he recognized Hinata's show of power for what it was, and knew that she had better control than he did, but also, the random match order had thrown a monkey wrench into the invasion plans. Gaara was supposed to fight first, while his siblings would save their techniques for when the invasion began in earnest. He couldn't fight and keep the new weapons he had installed in his puppet, Karasu, a secret, but if he forfeited the match, not only would all the money the Wind daimyo's placed on him be wasted, but he would loose face in front of his fellow ninja.

He had no choice, he would have to fight, and win! He walked down to the arena, and while he was out of sight of the crowd, switched places with Karasu, taking the place of the puppet in the linen bandages wrapped up and carried on the puppet's back. From here, he could control his weapon and be well hidden from detection.

In the stands, Hiashi and Hanabi were waiting in anticipation for the fight to start. Though it was a time to celebrate his eldest children's accomplishments, Hiashi insisted that Hanabi also take this opportunity to observe the other ninja and analyze how the Hyuuga taijutsu would stack up against them.

"Ok Hanabi-chan, what can you tell me about your sister's opponent?" He asked; eyes focused on his eldest child about ready to make her mark in this exam.

"Well, he's a puppeteer, if the bundle on his back is any indication…so he'll want to hide as much as possible to protect himself against nee-chan's attacks. But the byakugan can find him, and the jyuken can cut his chakra strings, so he really shouldn't have much of a chance against nee-chan." The young girl summed up, receiving a nod of approval from her father.

Down with Kankuro and Hinata, the signal to begin had just been given, and neither one had made a move yet, both were satisfied to just size up the other for the moment.

Hinata made the first move, running through seals and taking a big breath, before starting her attack. Inside he mouth, the chakra she was storing up was turning into water and she released it in a high velocity bullet.

From his vantage point inside the bandages on Karasu's back, Kankuro was going to have his puppet rush the Hyuuga girl, only to feel the cold point of a kunai in the small of his back…his real back.

"Hiding so close to your puppet wasn't very smart, the second Hinata said, and emphasized her point by applying a bit more pressure with her knife.

She had him beat, and good. The only option that Kankuro had was to give up and hope that Gaara didn't kill him for making the Sand village look like a bunch of fools. As he returned to the finalists' box, he saw his brother's look from the corner of his eye, and knew that things were about to get much worse for him, if this invasion didn't go as planned. The electronic board sprang to life again and began to select the next fight. When it stopped, Kankuro felt his stomach drop from his gut to his feet. The plan was almost completely thrown out the window now.

Sabaku no Temari vs. Akimichi Chouji.

Now, under normal circumstances, Temari might have decided that discretion was the better part of valor and withdrew from the competition, but with Kankuro making a mockery of Suna, she had a chip on her shoulder, and quickly snapped open her large battle fan and floated down to the arena, while Chouji, after receiving a last bit of advice from Shikamaru (something about how organizing a funeral would be too troublesome), made his way down the stairs to meet his opponent.

This match started similarly to its predecessor, both parties were happy to just stare the other down, formulating plans and plotting strategies for their own victory.

Temari decided that it was time to take off the training wheels, so to speak, and snapped her fan open, revealing all three purple dots on the inside of her battle fan. Assuming that she was about to attack him, Chouji quickly used one of his families clan techniques, Bubun Baika (Partial Multi-size) no jutsu, and expanded his arms until they were easily four times their previous size, and took a swing at the sand kunoichi, making leap into the air, but she was still able to complete her attack and Chouji couldn't defend his outreached arms from her Kamaitachi (Cutting Whirlwind) attack. Despite his best attempts at toughening up his skin, the attack still cut into his arms, almost removing his ability to use his hands, and thus hand signs, completely. His hands returned to their normal size, and Temari gently glided down to earth on her fan, a smirk plastered over her tan face.

Chouji timed his next attack perfectly; he curled himself into a ball and began to spin extremely fast, just as she touched down on the ground. The Nikudan Sensha (Meat Tank) was another Akimichi clan jutsu, used primarily as part of the Ino-Shika-Cho formation, but in this case, Chouji hoped that the rapidly rotating sphere would be able to break through Temari's wind attack. By the time Temari's feet were securely on the ground, he was hurtling at her, going as fast as a rolling human being can go. It just wasn't fast enough, and Temari swept her fan around again, releasing another gust of slicing winds. Though the rotation of Chouji's body helped push him through a little bit, he was still injured severely and was slowed enough on the initial swing, that Temari's second sweep of her iron fan lifted the human cannon ball into the air before dropping him unceremoniously to the ground, a mess of cuts and gashes.

Thinking the match over, Temari snapped her fan shut with ease and turned to the proctor for his decision. To her, and most of the crowds shock, Genma didn't call off the fight. Turning back to where the Akimichi had fallen to the ground, Temari was genuinely shocked to see a cut and bleeding Chouji stand up shakily and pop a soldier pill into his mouth. She saw the relief flood his face as chakra was restored to his body, and held her fan in a defensive stance, awaiting his next move.

The brown haired, big boned boy, had a serious look on his face, more reminiscent of Shino or Sasuke, than his usual self, and after that last run in with the Sand kunoichi's wind, Chouji knew what he had to do, even if it would use up almost all of his remaining chakra. He first used another clan technique, Baika no jutsu (Multi size), expanding his entire body, seemingly in preparation for another meat tank. But instead of curling into a ball and acting like a pinball, he ran through another set of hand seals and upon completion, slammed his palms to the ground, and fell to all fours. To everyone's shock (except Shikamaru), the earth from the stadium floor crept up along Chouji's skin until it covered his entire body, but it kept on going. Over his face, the summoned rock elongated and turned into a snort of sorts, and along his back, thins spikes of rock, more like the quills of a porcupine or hedgehog grew. Only when the quills were a menacing four feet high, bringing his already huge mass to a staggering seven feet high, and nearly twenty feet long, did he beginning to curl into a ball and begin to rotate.

"Ishi Harinezumi no jutsu!" (Stone Hedgehog technique) His deepened voice came from inside the rock animal and he began his attack. While it might make him much larger than his previous attacks, all the extra weight slowed him down, and Temari had ample time to launch another Kamaitachi at her foe, not expecting it to stop the boy completely, at least cutting through his armor.

To her horror, it did nothing except chip some of the rock along the base of the thin quills along the rolling wrecking balls back. She tried again with the same result. Now he was getting much too close, and she was forced to launch herself into the air to avoid the lumbering pin cushion. What happened next surprised everyone in the stadium.

Chouji stopped on a dime, right underneath Temari's floating fan. For a moment he just sat there, doing nothing, until he suddenly began to spin…backwards, in the same place. The previously damaged quills shattered and fractured along the small stresses that Temari had made, and as they snapped and impacted the rock 'skin' over Chouji's body, they ricocheted upwards, directly at Temari, who had to either move out of the way, or risk being impaled by flying stalagmites. She was able to push away just in time to miss the largest pieces of debris, but as the quills flew through the air, they shattered into more pieces, which rained down on her body and fan, tearing cloth and fan, letting air spill out from her makeshift glider. She fell the final twenty feet to the ground and lost consciousness on impact with the ground.

Chouji stopped rotating and allowed the rock to fall of his body and assimilate back into the arena floor. As soon as the last bit of rock fell from his shoulders, he too blacked out due to chakra exhaustion. Genma took a look at both gennin before announcing his decision.

"This match is ruled a double knock out, neither party will advance to the second round!"

Again, medics came out to the arena and took the two injured gennin to a field tent to check them over. Soon enough the board was back to its old tricks and the fourth fight of the chuunin exam final was selected.

Uzumaki Naruto vs. Sabaku no Gaara.

What were the odds? All three sand gennin fighting in a row like that? The crowd sure loved the order of matches so far, While most of the people in the stadium thought this would last about as long as the first fight, those who knew what was happening, knew that this had the potential to be the best fight of the tournament. How often did two demon vessels square off against each other?

Gaara teleported to the floor in a small twister of sand, while Naruto executed a perfect Konoha shunshin and joined him.

There was a lot of chatter going on in the stands while the crowd waited with baited breath for the start of the match. In the Hokage's box, the Sandaime was keeping an eye on his counterpart from Sunagakure. His two eldest children had failed to secure a win, in fact, the eldest hadn't even put up a fight, and yet here he sat, cool as a cucumber, eyeing Gaara, the youngest closely. Even if Jiraiya hadn't alerted him to Orochimaru's movements, Sarutobi would have been suspicious of the Kazekage's behavior. After the display by the oldest Sabaku children however, there was no doubt left in the old Hokage's mind. The body sitting next to him was Orochimaru, and the only way that today could end would be with at least one of them dead…

"I'm worried, Tousan." Hanabi whispered to her father as she watched her brother stare down the red headed Suna ninja. "Gaara-san seems very strong, what if Haran-nii can't beat him?" Despite his absence for large parts of her life, Hanabi had a very close relationship with her brother, part hero worship and part connection via the threat of the caged bird seal.

Hiashi tousled the brown locks of his youngest child, despite her annoyance at the action. "Don't worry about it, Hanabi-chan, your niisan has been working very hard for this fight, there is almost no situation that he hasn't planned for and can't get out of. He'll be fine."

This time, Genma didn't say anything, he just dropped his arm between the two gennin, and the fight was on!

Gaara's sand rocketed forward in a wave of grains and tried to entrap the Leaf gennin, only for Haran to duck under the wave and dash forward, kunai in hand, ready to take a whack at Gaara's body. To his surprise, a wall of sand rose up to protect Gaara from the blade of the knife, but by applying some wind natured chakra to the blade of the keen knife, Haran was able to slice through the tendril of sand that had dared stop his attack. He felt the sand from Gaara's initial attack coming back, and ducked again, while attempting a sweep kick, though that too was blocked.

Haran leapt away, there had to be another way to get through this sand shield without resorting to his new technique. Deciding to test out this shield of Gaara's, Haran threw a kunai into the air and formed a crossed shaped seal. Soon the single kunai was over a thousand, each one heading straight at Gaara. Again, the sand rose in a while to block the deadly attack at its master. Upon impact, all the cloned kunai poofed into non existence, leaving only the original to be assimilated into the sand.

"It's no use Uzumaki." Gaara growled. "You can't get past my sand."

"Never say never." Haran smirked, counting off the seconds before the explosive note he had attached to his kunai exploded, scattering the sand enough to expose the weapon, though not for very long.

It was more than enough time for Haran however, as a month of speed training with the Toad hermit had done wonders for the boy. He not only had to wear weights, but worked in a running stream and underneath a waterfall to build up even more stamina and increase his physical strength.

Haran had removed the weights before arriving this morning, the weighted suit he had been using wasn't made to be removed quickly, unlike the weights he had seen in many of the weapon and equipment shops he had been in.

Without the extra fifty pounds he had grown used to wearing, Haran was nearly twice as fast as before, and used this advantage to sprint forward and retrieve his knife.

Gaara was surprised that his opponent was so fast, not in his wildest dreams had he thought Uzumaki would be this fast. The voice of his mother began to call for the blond's blood, a sure sign that he would make a good opponent. He commanded his sand to attack, to seek out the blood of Uzumaki Naruto, but time and time again, the boy just evaded the sand and tried a different trick to try and bypass his Suna no Tate. (Sand Shield) Nothing had worked, of course, but the sheer tenacity the blond had was beginning to worry the Suna boy.

Haran's current trick involved a smoke screen and kage bunshin transformed into kunai that littered the ground. He would transform into a knife and wait for Gaara to come near, but before he did, he caught the outline of a large shape through the smoke. Quickly he activated his Byakugan, being careful to hide the bulging veins around his eyes, peered through the visual obstruction, hoping to glimpse what was happening.

Gaara had surrounded himself in a cocoon of sand, probably because it was the sand's way of preparing for the unknown, and a large eyeball sat perched atop the dome of sand. The entire thing was aglow in golden yellow chakra, showing just how much energy it took to keep this technique up and viable.

Deciding to continue the plan, but amend it on the fly, Haran created one more shadow clone and transformed himself into a kunai on the ground, before watching his clone rush towards the sand ball, wondering what kind of defense this would pose. It was a bit of a shock that the clone was able to reach all the way up to the mass without being attacked, but once it's arm impacted the sand it initially held firm, protecting Gaara completely, but then caved inwards, trapping the arm before a sharp tendril of sand speared through the clone's chest, ending that little experiment.

Gaara's third eye swept over the arena floor, looking for Uzumaki, that clone had been a good diversion, and now it was imperative that the genuine article be located, else he might be able to continue with his little guerilla strikes.

Haran had his plan set in stone now. This would end the fight, there wasn't any sense in dragging it out any longer than it had been going for now. Releasing his henge, the blonde reappeared in the middle of his kunai field, catching the blind spot of Gaara's eye, before he rushed forward, hoping no one would notice that he was going to be using the Jyuuken in this one strike.

In his right hand, he began to mold and spin chakra, an incomplete rasengan. Jiraiya had mentioned the technique once, and promised that if Haran showed enough patience and restraint, he would begin to teach it to the boy. This current form was only the first stage; ero-sennin would start teaching him the second stage after the exams. It would be more than enough now, after all, it's only purpose in this exchange would be to get rid of the sand between Haran and Gaara.

The swirling ball of chakra impacted the surface of the cocoon and began to spit and kick sand into the air, the tiny particles proving no match for even this weakened version of the Yondaime's original technique.

The opening wasn't very large, but Gaara's chest was uncovered enough for Haran to get a hand through and land a single strike to Gaara's side and then quickly retreat to safer ground.

Inside the cocoon, Gaara was shocked that this blond looser had not only managed to penetrate his cocoon, but had actually landed a hit on him. No one had ever done that, and despite the apparent softness of the strike, his side was now sore enough as to boarder on paralysis. Though it would take more chakra, he would have to use the Suna no Yoroi. (Armor of Sand)

The stadium was shocked, Uzumaki Naruto, the dead last of his graduating class, had not only been holding his own against the strongest of the Suna gennin, but had also shown an early version of the rasengan and then proceeded to actually hit Gaara!

From their seats in the shaded over hang, Hiashi and Hanabi privately cheered on their son/brother, the older thinking of how proud his wife would be if she were here to see how her children had grown up. Hanabi was thinking how strong her brother was, he hadn't even showed off that one move he had been working on…

In the Hokage's box, he too was feeling pride and wonder at the actions of his favorite gennin.

'Will the wonders ever cease with you, Haran?' He thought with a smile on his face.

Orochimaru was having far less fun watching his secret weapon getting made fool of. Before Orochimaru had killed him, the Kazekage had assured the snake sannin that Gaara was nigh unbeatable.

'Oh well.' He thought, tensing as the large cocoon of sand shrank and reduced until it was lying on top off Gaara's skin. 'If he dies it doesn't change my plans one bit, I would have killed him anyway once this was over with, my former associates can't be allowed to get their hands on him.'

Blue eyes met aqua, as Naruto and Gaara stared each other down, Naruto with an smirk of superiority on his face, and Gaara with anger and annoyance written all over his body.

"Gaara." Haran spoke, voice clear and showing no weakness or hesitation. "I've won this fight, even if you don't know it, give up now and you'll be able to walk out of here. If you insist on continuing this fight, you won't be able to crawl, let alone stand up after my next attack."

To try and intimidate Gaara into submission, he released enough of Kyuubi's chakra to equal that of Shukaku's, enough to let the demon inside know who his vessel was facing. For an instant, realization dawned on Gaara's face, for an instant he seemed unsure of himself, unsure of his chances of victory…and then Shukaku decided to step in. The tanuki's attempt to take over Gaara while he was awake caused the Suna gennin to grip his head in pain. The sand from his gourd and from the armor covering his body began to swirl around him violently before it began to settle on his left arm and the left side of his face, taking the appearance of the demon sealed within.

Now, just because this wasn't what Haran wanted to happen, didn't mean that he hadn't accounted for it. It was time to finish the match, and if Gaara did or didn't survive, the choice had been his.

Haran formed one seal. The ram seal, most often used when focusing chakra inside the body, usually as a precursor to chakra control exercises. The chakra Naruto was focusing on wasn't inside his body however; it was what little he had placed inside Gaara. That one strike had injected enough chakra to close ten tenketsu and seriously numb Gaara's side.

This was what Haran had spent almost the entirety of his training with Ero-sennin on this technique, and just as Gaara began to rush recklessly forward, Haran allowed his chakra to escape from three of the tenketsu they occupied.

Before Gaara had time to react to the tiny stinging sensation the release caused, a very large, very powerful bolt of lightning came down from a perfectly blue sky and struck the onrushing red-head. The bolt easily broke through the weak defense the loose sand around Gaara tried to put up, and then with similar ease, broke through the armor that was supposed to be impenetrable.

Gaara was knocked unconscious before he knew what had happened, and Shukaku was forced to divert so much chakra to regulating his host's heart rhythm, that he had no energy left to continue the fight.

Sabaku no Gaara fell to the ground and didn't rise. Throughout the stadium there wasn't a noise, there wasn't a sound. The expressions written across the faces of the spectators ranged from awe to shock to fear and back again.

From the gennin box, Kankuro was about to pee his pants from fright. No and absolutely NO ONE had ever beaten Gaara, and this kid had done it without a scratch on him! If this was the dead last, Kankuro hated to see what even a middle of the road gennin could do.

Of the thousands of people in the stands, the only one that seemingly had a clue as to what had just happened was Hinata and Hanabi. Haran had been practicing that technique, which he called Kusari Raikou, chain lightning. For every tenketsu Haran closed, by releasing that chakra, he could summon a directed bolt of lightning. The more tenketsu released, the more powerful the attack. Hinata had checked and if that was only three tenketsu, she shuddered to think of what someone would look like after five or even ten…what about the Hakke Rokujuuyonshou?

Hiashi wasn't sure if he should be more surprised at his son's technique, or the fact that his youngest daughter seemed to know what was going on. In the end he settled in with the crowd, in applauding an indescribable fight.

Ino couldn't believe it. Naruto, Uzumaki Naruto, of all people had just beaten Sabaku no Gaara, someone she had been specifically warned about by her father. Beside her, Sakura was in a similar state of denial. It wasn't until she noticed Hyuuga Hiashi, who was sitting just a couple of rows in front of her (she picked the seats she had because Sasuke was sitting further down the row), stand up and begin applauding politely. Amid the hollering, whistling and general ruckus, he seemed particularly demure, but if the head of the most powerful clan in the village could show his approval for the match, than she should have no problem in doing so too. Just as she was about to stand up and join the masses, she felt the beginnings of a genjutsu before she saw the illusionary feathers fall from the sky…

(A/N: There you go, now maybe I'll stop getting so many death threats from the fans of this story. I have a very good reason as to why this took me 5 months, actually, I have many good reasons, I just know that you don't really care why it took so long, you just want to make sure that I don't take so long again. Completely understandable, but I'm afraid I just can't make any promises about an update schedule.

I will say this; more than 80 percent of the reason for my tardiness is writer's block/remorse. I had the most impossible time thinking of how to write the Haran/Gaara fight, going through everything from having a toad squash him, to…okay, confession time, I couldn't really come up with anything else…and since that idea sucked…no way I could write the chapter. I tried…and tried…and constantly came up with toads…and then one time I came up a different type of summon…but same way of victory. Not only is this way cooler, but I mean come on! It's way WAY cooler!

Anyway, thank you to all who reviewed the last chapter, and a special thanks to those of you who reviewed my story in the past month or so…at least the ones who didn't make a threat on my life.

Please review this chapter as you have done so faithfully for the previous 13, and I promise to try and be quicker with my updates. To try and help myself/reward you who have stuck with me, here's the synopsis of the next chapter…before I've even written it!)


Haran will come out in the open, can't wait for Neji's reaction as well as Ino's.

Haran is uninjured and basically 100 percent, and now that he doesn't have to chase Gaara and Sasuke, where will he help out in this time of trouble?

Sasuke is still Sasuke, but he doesn't run out of the village to find a fight…what happens, who does he fight?

I think it's about time to reunite the first family of the Hyuuga…

And your last bit of info and probably the biggest departure from cannon AND fanon…the Sound four won't be casting the Shishi Enjin. They're in Konoha, but not in the box…