Chapter 44: Prelude to the Finals

It was five days until the Chūnin exam finals would begin. Naruto and Jiraiya entered the village in the afternoon hour. Naruto looked dirty and his clothes were torn up from the training that he went through. Jiraiya had a few smudges on his clothes but nothing bad. Naruto looked different from his trails in the ruins of Uzushiogakure (Hidden Whirlpool). He had improved quickly due to the training that had been suggested by Kakashi, Naruto was at least twice as strong as he was a year ago. The Kage Bunshin training method allowed Naruto to learn several ninjutsu techniques and fūinjutsu. Jiraiya worked on his physical strength, strategy and chakra pool. He had also improved his relationship with the Gama clan and was able to work with Gamariki.

Naruto stretched as he entered the gates.

"It feels good to be back." Naruto said.

"That it does boy." Jiraiya said with a smile. He was very proud of his godson. He was stubborn when it came to their training but he stuck with it and grew. "Anyway, I would go and get some new clothes. Remember, no more heavy training. Just relax and do some light training."

"Yeah, yeah, you don't have to tell me all the time you know. I'm not that hard headed." Naruto complained. Some people who passed by them, snorted in amusement at the statement. Jiraiya laughed while Naruto pouted.

XXX

The sounds of steel rang through the Forrest of Death. Jakken and Tenten dashed at each other and clashed. They tried to gain an advantage on each other as they were locked. They pushed away and landed across from each other. Jakken spun one of the sickles of his new kurisagama as Tenten slipped into a stance with her staff. The two narrowed their eyes at each other began pushing off their back legs. Just as they were about to clash again, a kunai stopped them. They looked up into the trees to see Anko sitting on a branch.

The jōnin looked at the two genin with some respect. Jakken had learned how to use his new weapon in the short amount of time. His taijutsu had improved and he had learned a few more Raiton jutsu. Tenten had improved in close combat, Anko showing her how to use all the weapons in her arsenal. Now, she didn't launch all her weapons in bulk and could hang with a few chūnin level opponents. She also taught her some support jutsu to help her be more useful to her team. In all, she was proud of the two and happy at their improvement.

"Okay you two that will be enough training for the rest of the week. Jakken, continue to work with your new weapon but do only light training. That goes both for you Tenten. Just relax and go on that date that you two have been avoiding." Anko joked.

"S-Shut up! I've told you a dozen damn times that I don't like him! He's not my type!" Tenten exclaimed.

"The feeling is mutual and I have told you to just ignore her. She is just trying to rile you up." Jakken said calmly.

"That's easy for you to say. You're use to her and I'm not." Tenten said.

"She's a lot better than Gai though." Jakken said. Tenten really had no comment for that. Anko just smirked.

XXX

Yakumo sat in a meditative position. Unkai and Kurenai watched as she began to channel the power of the Ido. Her hair whipped in the air and her aura was visible for all to see. She held that position for a complete hour before stopping. She pitched forward and took some deep breaths. After a while she relaxed and stood up. Unkai walked up to her with a small smile.

"You did much better than before Yakumo. I believe that this will be enough for the finals. Just remember that feeling you get when you begin to lose control and activate the seal." Unkai said.

"I understand uncle. Thank you for taking care of me." Yakumo said with a happy smile. He returned it. Kurenai just watched with a smile of her own. Yakumo had grown as a shinobi and she couldn't be any more proud. She had taught her the genjutsu in her arsenal and helped her create two techniques that could really cause some damage. Anko would come by some times and teach Yakumo some taijutsu and how to fight with two kunai. She was very confident that Yakumo could do well enough for a promotion.

Kurenai walked up to her one time student and gave her a smile.

"How about we go to the hot springs to celebrate your success?" Kurenai asked. Yakumo quickly vanished and reappeared with her bath items. Kurenai and her uncle just laughed at her and her love for hot springs.

XXX

"Is everybody ready?" Midoshi asked her teammates. She looked at the three with a cocky smirk but in her mind she couldn't be more impressed with them. She and Guren worked out their issues during this training. While they would still insult each other, there was no longer that hate from before. The two had worked with each other and had increased each other's growth of skill. Kotohime had also improved with her hair jutsu and had created a new style of fighting which would put anybody on edge. It was an unpredictable style that she found fit her. Kagerō had also grown, improving her transformation skills. You couldn't truly tell anymore as she had taken her craft to lengths that could fool even a well-known sensor. She improved her chakra, which improved her ninjutsu.

Her team was a well-oiled machine and they would have no issues in the invasion. That parasite Orochimaru would enjoy that.

"So are we going straight to Konoha?" Guren asked.

"Not yet. I was summoned by one of the main snakes here and he has finished with my order for us. It will keep us protected when the shit hits the fan." Midoshi said.

"Well, that's unlike you." Guren commented.

"What can I say? You fodder have grown on me." Midoshi joked. She then got serious and looked at them. "If it gets to be too much, I want you three to retreat. Orochimaru has always underestimated his foes and I feel that this will bite him in the ass. Just promise me that you will."

"I will obey your orders mistress." Kagerō said.

"As will I Midoshi-josei." Kotohime added.

"Fine, I wouldn't want you crying over me anyway." Guren stated. Midoshi just smirked and led her team toward their destination.

XXX

For the next four days, everyone was finishing their training. Shino, Sai, Lee, Neji, Gaara and Temari had just ended their training and returned to Konoha for the finals. The only one who was still pushing themselves was Sasuke. He ignored the words of Kakashi and continued to practice his new jutsu. Kakashi was at his wits end with the boy and felt that he would not be able to reach him. He knew that the words of Gaara hit a nerve. He would just watch the boy and hoped that he would not sacrifice his chances to compete.

Since tomorrow was the finals, Anko had called her team together to have dinner. She treated the group and they entered the restaurant without any issues. She was kind of pouting however as she was banned from ever getting sake when she was with her team. It was made a law due to the incident that occurred. Her team laughed at her as they were served by the waitress.

"It's your own fault that this happened." Jakken said with a smirk.

"Oh shut up. I swear, you pull one prank and everybody is against you." Anko muttered. She looked over her team and mentally smiled. She had kept tabs on Yakumo, Jakken and learned what Naruto had done from the pervert. She had to thank Kakashi for his help in improving Naruto's skills too. They all looked stronger from when she picked them up from the academy. Within the year that they had been a team, she had watched them grow into chūnin level ninja. She was pretty confident that they would be promoted. That would mean that their team would get broken up. That's kind of killed her mood. Naruto saw this and wondered what was wrong.

"You okay Anko-sensei?" Naruto asked.

"Yeah, I'm just a little bummed. Tomorrow, my cute little genin are going to become chūnin and that will be the end of our team. I guess I'm a little sad that I won't get to spill any more of your blood." Anko said sadly.

"First of all, that's just disgusting. Second of all, who said that the team is breaking up?" Jakken asked. Anko looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah, I'm not leaving the team. I know that we will eventually do missions on our own and we are happy that you have so much faith in us, but you still have much to teach us." Yakumo said.

"Yeah, you're not just going to do such a half-assed job in training us to be ninja right? Your job isn't done yet." Jakken added.

"I agree. Until I become Hokage, Jakken becomes an ANBU ninja and you get Yakumo in the Konoha Gomon/Jinmon Butai (Konoha Torture and Interrogation Force), you're stuck with us." Naruto said.

"Hey, I am not joining the Gomon/Jinmon Butai!" Yakumo exclaimed.

"But you're so good at it. You don't even have to hurt them just scare them with your ghost powers." Jakken teased.

"How many times must I tell you to stop calling my skills that?!" Yakumo shouted. Anko just laughed at her students as they enjoyed the night. She felt a little better at the pep talk from her students. She knew things will be alright.

XXX

Naruto returned home tired. He had some fun with his team and had just finished fixing their prop for the entrance of the finals. It was an idea that everyone was on board with and they had to get some supplies. They had just finished the rig and they couldn't wait until tomorrow. Now, he just couldn't wait to get some sleep.

"Hard day?" a voice asked. Naruto stopped and looked into his living room. There seated on his couch was Midoshi. She sat calmly with her legs crossed and her arms laid out across the back. Naruto was a little surprised that she knew where he lived but was instantly on edge. He looked to reach for something that was near his hallway closet but he couldn't find it. "Are you looking for these?" and she placed several kunai on his table. Naruto sucked his teeth at the fact that he was not armed. That's when Midoshi disarmed herself and placed her things next to his. She returned to her comfortable position and motioned Naruto to sit. Having no other choice, Naruto took a seat right across from her.

"Good, I just wanted to talk to you. Our match is first after all, so why would I hinder your arrival to the stadium?" Midoshi asked.

"What are you doing here Midoshi?" Naruto asked.

"I've come to see the work that the Gama (Toad) Sennin (Hermit) has done with you. I was not able to spy on your training as he took you out of the village. Also, it seems that both of our summonses have tightened their borders after we sent spies to learn about each other." Midoshi said with a smirk. Naruto cursed at that, which made Midoshi's smirk wider. She gave him a once over before looking into his eyes. She stared at them for a while as did Naruto. They were both memorized by each other's eyes, her with Naruto's blue ones and him with Midoshi's golden ones. After a while, the contact was broken.

"Heh, I guess that pervert has done his job well. It will be an exciting fight." Midoshi said with a wicked grin.

"I just don't get it." Naruto stated.

"You don't get what?" Midoshi asked.

"Why do you do all this? It just can't be because of your love of battle. There has to be something more to this interest in fighting me. Like I told you before, you don't know what you're asking me to use that chakra that is within me." Naruto said.

"Oh, I know what I'm asking Naruto. I want to fight that chakra, that raw, animalistic power and to defeat it with my own power." Midoshi said.

"So it's all about your ego?" Naruto asked.

"More like pride Naruto. Do you know how we are view by everyone? We are viewed as evil, deceivers and monsters. In a way, we are like that but it is even worst due to our association with Orochimaru. I look to change that. I will show the world that we of the Hebi (Snake) clan are one to be respected and admired just as the Gama clan is. And what better way to do that, than to defeat the new summoner of the Gama clan. You and I are going to show everyone just how strong we are. When everything is done, I will be the victor and my pride will be satisfied." Midoshi told him. This was a new side to the girl that Naruto met before. He couldn't fault her for her ambitions as he had similar ones of him becoming Hokage. He looked at her with a serious but calm demeanor.

"You're going to have to work for it Midoshi. My name is Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato. If you're going to try and make a name for yourself through me, then get ready to fail." Naruto said. That made Midoshi smile wide.

"Good to know." Midoshi said and stood. She grabbed her weapons and walked toward his window. She placed one foot on the window before turning back to him. "I'll see you tomorrow Naruto. Be prepared for the fight of your life." With that said, Midoshi jumped out of the window and was gone. Naruto let out a sigh of relief and went to his room. He needed to be well rested for the upcoming battle.

XXXXX

Authors' Notes: Here's the new chapter. Sorry that it is so late. Anyway, the next few chapters that will lead up to the invasion, I will try and make them as long as possible. I want to do each fight in one chapter and be as detailed as possible. That's my goal for the future chapters. Also, the scene with Midoshi and Naruto, I took from one of my favorite movies, Heat. That scene when they are in the dinner, classic. I just did something similar to it. Anyway, enjoy.