A/N: The hiatus is OVER! Here's:

Chapter 12

Naruto and Sasuke glared at one another for a few moments after the proctor called for the match to begin. Surprising most of the spectators, it was Sasuke who moved first. He rushed at Naruto, leading with his fist. Naruto ducked backwards, easily dodging the Uchiha's move, and swiped at his legs with a low sweeping kick. The Uchiha leapt over Naruto's attack and attempted to punch down at Naruto's head. Naruto rolled slightly and kicked up at Sasuke's midsection at the same time.

Naruto's kick drove into Sasuke's stomach hard, knocking the wind from the dark-haired boy. Sasuke backed away, panting heavily, arms gripping his stomach hard. Naruto pressed his advantage and punched Sasuke across the face, sending him flying into the wall of the arena. Sasuke pulled himself out of the wall and ran at Naruto again, rage clear on his face. Naruto waited in his ready stance. Sasuke threw an angry punch at Naruto, leaving himself wide open. Naruto saw this, but didn't take it too seriously and let the opening go, not bothering to attack Sasuke. Sasuke saw this and snarled.

His rage increased by the way Naruto was clearly not taking this fight seriously, he rushed at the blond again, intending to force him to take it so. As Sasuke got close and attacked, Naruto said quietly as he dodged, "Don't take this so seriously, Sasuke! Remember the plan!" Naruto wrapped a hand around Sasuke's wrist as he said this.

Sasuke yanked his arm, pulling Naruto around in front of him and decked him once across the face, hard. "This is deadly serious to me," Sasuke told the blond. "Even if it means every single person in this village dies, I will defeat you!" This enraged Naruto, who kicked as hard as he could from his awkward angle. Sasuke, not expecting Naruto to attack from a position like that, took the full brunt of Naruto's attack, which landed right between his legs. Every male in the stands gripped their own crotch in sympathy. "That was just dirty! Just what I'd expect of a jinchuriki!" Sasuke yelled at Naruto when he could breathe again.

Naruto smirked, intentionally ignoring Sasuke's insult. "Come on, Sasuke, you know better than that. We're ninja, not samurai!" he told him, then went on the attack himself. Sasuke dodged Naruto's punch and leapt away from the blond and up the wall behind him. Naruto watched in horrified fascination as Sasuke built up chakra in the palm of his hand. "No, he can't be...he wouldn't use that here, would he?" Naruto thought to himself. Sure enough, as Naruto watched, Sasuke formed a blade of lightning in his palm. The Chidori! Naruto turned to the proctor and said, quietly, "If he uses that on me, I will not be held responsible for what happens to him." The proctor simply nodded as Sasuke began his charge. Naruto sighed. "I was hoping I wouldn't have to use this," he said softly, then held out a hand and formed an Elemental Rasengan.

Just as Sasuke was coming within range to strike at Naruto with his Chidori, the blond held up his hand to meet the chakra blade with the spinning sphere he'd formed. The two jutsu clashed, chakra flying everywhere for a few moments. Then, the wind chakra in Naruto's Elemental Rasengan canceled the lightning chakra in Sasuke's Chidori, causing it to fail. Sasuke's momentum carried him forward, despite the loss of his own jutsu. Naruto's attack proceeded to tear into Sasuke's hand, then his arm, and eventually stopped when Sasuke's momentum ran out; by then, the Elemental Rasengan was buried in Sasuke's chest. It had turned the Uchiha boy's heart into a boiling liquid. The Uchiha was dead before he hit the ground.

The proctor nearly gagged when he saw the wreckage that was Sasuke Uchiha's body. Naruto scoffed and commented, "He threatened my precious people."

The proctor had no choice. "Winner, Naruto Uzumaki!" he said. Naruto didn't waste time bowing to the crowd. Most of them were shocked into silence anyway. Naruto simply walked away, leaving the proctor and Sasuke's body on the ground of the arena. The proctor then pulled out his copy of the tournament bracket. "Round Two: Shikamaru Nara versus Kankuro! Will you two come down here, please?"

Meanwhile, in the Kage box, Tsunade was speaking to the Kazekage. By now, she suspected that this man was not who he seemed. In fact, she suspected that he was, in fact, Orochimaru in disguise, based on the information she'd been given by Gaara, Kankuro, and Temari.

"That was an...unexpected outcome," the man said, his voice sending slight chills up Tsunade's spine. At that moment, she became certain that her old teammate was sitting beside her.

"It was only unexpected if you don't know those two," Tsunade said back. "Naruto and Sasuke had a lot of bad blood between them. Sasuke reminded me of an old teammate of mine, given how arrogant he was and how little real emotion he seemed to feel." As she spoke, she watched the man beside her carefully for any sign that her ploy had been noticed. He gave none.

"Even so, it's a bit of a disappointment to see so promising a Genin die in such a way, is it not?" Orochimaru, for that is who was with Tsunade, asked in response. Tsunade looked at him in confusion. "Well, really, the boy learned a jutsu created by the Copy Ninja, Kakashi Hatake, at such a young age," he continued. "That shows quite a bit of promise." As the two Sannin spoke, Shikamaru trapped Kankuro in his Shadow Possession Jutsu.

"You speak truth, I suppose, but sometimes I wonder if a person's abilities might not be made worthless by being wielded by that person," Tsunade said, barely restraining herself from glaring at her old teammate.

Orochimaru chuckled. "Nonsense, no matter who wields a jutsu, the move itself is still valuable for its own sake," he said then. "By the way, what was the move that the Uzumaki kid used on the Uchiha at the end there? I've never seen it before."

Tsunade gave a slight shrug as, on the ground, Shikamaru forfeited the match between him and Kankuro. He had spent a few minutes toying with Kankuro once he caught him in his shadow, only to find that the puppet-master's puppet was still free, and the master could still control it. As a result, Shikamaru had been unable to defeat Kankuro, so he forfeited the match. Nonetheless, the two had both exhibited high levels of skill during the match. "I'm not entirely sure what that jutsu was," she said honestly. "This is the first time I've ever seen it myself."

In the waiting area, Naruto and Hinata were talking quietly about the match they had just witnessed. "Remember, Naruto, you have to beat Kankuro for our plan to work," Hinata said.

Naruto nodded. "Don't worry, Hinata. I won't let him win. I'm sure it'll be a fun match," he said back. Hinata looked worried, so Naruto hugged her briefly. She buried her face in his chest, smiling, and hugged him back, enjoying the scent of his body all around her.

"Well, that was anticlimactic," the proctor commented to Shikamaru.

"Yeah, well, I had the next couple hundred moves planned out in my head, but what good would it do me if I ran myself out of chakra?" he responded rhetorically. He yawned. "This is a huge drag anyway, so let's just forget about it." With that, the lazy boy made his way out of the arena and back up to the waiting area.

"A logical choice," Shino commented as the shadow-user arrived. Shikamaru just nodded before slumping to the ground, falling asleep almost immediately. No one had even bothered to mention Naruto's fight or his rather...brutal way of ending it.

The next fight was called, and it was Hinata versus Shino. Hinata hugged Naruto tightly. Naruto directed a glare at Shino, who nodded in return, promising silently that he wouldn't hurt Hinata; both Naruto and Hinata knew Shino would give it his all, but Naruto was satisfied so long as Hinata wasn't permanently injured.

Shino and Hinata made their way to the ground of the arena. "It would be illogical," Shino commented on their way down, "for me to drain you of all your chakra. You have two more fights to take part in. However, I must display my own skills as well."

Hinata nodded, her eyes thoughtful. "I know how you feel, Shino," she said back. "I'm somewhat torn as well. I would not wish to harm your colony, but most of my moves would do so, and, as you said, we must both display our skills."

As they talked, they had arrived at the ground floor in front of the proctor. He nodded as they took up their battle stances. "Let the third match of the Chunin Exams...BEGIN!" he called out and moved out of their way.

Hinata didn't hesitate, she moved in and began to try to strike at Shino with her Gentle Fist. Shino deflected her strikes carefully; the two had trained together for months by now, after all, so Shino was fully well aware of what Hinata's taijutsu could do. The two had been dueling for several minutes when Hinata realized that Shino hadn't released his bugs yet. She stopped and fell out of her ready stance. Shino raised an eyebrow.

"We cannot fully display our powers if you are holding your insects back, Shino," Hinata said, her voice disappointed.

Shino nodded, acknowledging her point. "We also cannot display our powers if you do not activate your Byakugan," he countered. Hinata gave a nod, then smiled and activated her dojutsu. Shino nodded in return and held out his arms, insects pouring from his sleeves.

For the second time in as many minutes, Hinata charged at Shino. Her Byakugan allowed her to see every minuscule movement Shino made, making predicting what he was going to do much easier. As Shino once again deflected Hinata's moves, he also sent his insects around to try to attach to Hinata's body. Hinata, however, was aware of them; she might not be able to see each insect, but she could easily see the swarm that was buzzing around her.

Hinata gave a smirk and moved in on Shino again. She struck fast and hard, shutting down one chakra point after another. When she was finished, she expected her old teammate and friend to fall to the ground. Instead, he dissolved into a mass of insects! "What!" Hinata cried. She'd been attacking a bug clone all along? Then...where was the real Shino?

Hinata had deactivated her Byakugan when he thought the match was over, which turned out to be a mistake as the real Shino, who had been hiding among his swarm, came from behind and kicked her in the back. Hinata pitched forward, then used the momentum of Shino's attack to roll back to her feet. By the time she regained her feet, Hinata's Byakugan was active again. "So, you hid in your swarm while I attacked your bug clone, then attacked from behind when I dropped my guard. Smart," she said to her teammate.

Shino nodded, admitting that she'd figured out what he'd done. "I doubt it will work again, however," he said idly. "It would be illogical to expect you to fall for the same trick twice."

Hinata smirked. "Indeed it would, my friend." With that, she moved again to attack Shino. This time, it was the real Shino, and he desperately deflected her Gentle Fist strikes to prevent losing control of his chakra. Shino ducked under a wide kick Hinata threw at him, then he managed to push off the ground with one hand and kick at Hinata's midsection at the same time. His blow landed, but it cost him. Hinata shut down the chakra points in his leg.

Shino hopped around, trying to get some feeling back in his leg, but to no avail. Hinata used the time to catch her breath. Shino turned his dark gaze upon Hinata. In an attempt to catch the girl off-guard, he ran at her. Engaging Hinata in taijutsu was a reckless move and he knew it, but he thought it might be worth a try. Hinata saw him coming and, using her superior speed and flexibility, dodged Shino's moves with aplomb. "Nice try, Shino," she commented at one point, when she was doing the splits on the ground after ducking under one of Shino's punches, which had carried him past her. "But not good enough." Rising to her feet, she made to seal the chakra point in one of Shino's shoulders, but, to her surprise, Shino preempted her by swinging with his other arm and backhanding her across the face. Hinata flew a few feet and landed hard on the ground. Wiping blood from her mouth, she rose to her feet and grinned at the bug-user. "Okay, that was good," she granted.

Shino grinned. "I've told you many times, Hinata, that you should never underestimate your opponent, no matter how weak they may seem," he told her. Hinata nodded.

"Indeed you have," she answered. "I will not be making that mistake again." With that, the Hyuga girl moved again, this time in a diving kick that would have swept Shino's feet from under him. Shino carefully calculated the risk, then jumped to avoid the kick; he would have been unable to fight had he lost both his legs. Hinata rose quickly and, as he was coming down, hit his right shoulder, effectively numbing his dominant hand.

Shino nodded to Hinata, who dropped out of her ready stance. "Proctor," Shino said in his normal monotone. "I withdraw."

The proctor grinned around the senbon needle in his mouth and called the match. "Winner, Hinata Hyuga!" he said. The crow cheered.

Despite the relative brevity of the match, especially compared to Shikamaru's time-wasting tactics, it had been a fun one to watch. Hinata bowed, then she and Shino made their way back to the waiting area to rejoin their friends. As they walked, Hinata unsealed Shino's chakra points.

"That was an awesome match, you two!" Naruto said enthusiastically as the two returned to the balcony.

"Yes, most invigorating!" Lee yelled out. Temari and Lee, knowing they would be the opponents for the next match, made their individual ways to the ground. Temari rode her fan down, using the wind to support herself, and Lee simply leapt to the ground, landing hard due to the weights he had strapped on his arms and legs again.

The proctor started the fourth and final match of the first round. Lee and Temari faced off, both excited, both nervous. Temari was worried; this was the boy who had beaten Gaara! Lee was excited and nervous; this girl had brutally defeated Tenten, but she no longer looked the same as she had then. Then, she had had the look of a killer, now she had the look of an honorable opponent. Lee couldn't wait to fight her! "Let us make this a most glorious match!" he called to the blond kunoichi.

Temari gave a small smile. "Yes, I think that is a good idea," she said, pulling out her fan with all three "moons" showing. Temari swung her fan. "Wind Scythe Jutsu!" she cried, sending a gust of cutting wind at Lee. Lee moved, dodging to the side. Temari's jutsu slammed into a tree and tore it apart. Lee grinned; this girl wasn't messing around!

Lee decided it was time for him to attack this time. He circled Temari in an ever-tightening circle, kicking up dust as he went to obscure her view. Temari sighed, rolled her eyes, and swung her fan again. This time, rather than doing a jutsu, she just blew away the dust Lee had produced.

Lee snarled, frustrated, then made a second attempt at getting closer to Temari. She could see him coming, sort of, but Lee was moving so fast Temari couldn't do much about it. Lee swung, his fist crashing hard into Temari's face and sending her flying. She made a matching imprint next to Sasuke's from earlier. The way the shapes lined up, it looked like the two had been holding hands when they slammed into the wall. Naruto, noticing this up in the balcony, snickered.

By the time Temari pulled herself out of the wall, Lee was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, what looked like a rock came hurtling out of one of the trees, straight at her. Temari swung her fan. Unfortunately for her, it wasn't a rock, it was one of Lee's leg weights! Tearing through the wind like it wasn't there, the weight slammed into Temari's fan, tearing a huge hole in it and slamming into the ground beside the kunoichi.

Lee threw his other weight, which flew just over Temari's head and slammed into the ground near the first one. Temari jumped and looked behind her at the two weights. Just as she did, Lee came from behind and kicked her into the air. Jumping quickly, he got above her, planted both feet on her back, and shoved her back toward the ground. Temari slammed into the ground, face-first, and didn't move again. Lee flipped over once, then landed on all-fours not far from Temari. The proctor checked on Temari, then called out, "Winner, Rock Lee!"

Temari groaned and rolled over, leaving a shallow imprint of her body in the ground. Lee came over to her and looked into her eyes. "You should not have insulted my teammate," he said simply, then held out a hand to the girl. Temari accepted it, Lee hefted her to her feet, and the two departed the arena floor, making their way back to the balcony.

Tsunade stood and walked to the front of the Kage box. "Would the four contestants who will be proceeding to the second round please return to the arena floor!" she called out. Naruto, Hinata, Lee, and Kankuro made their way back down. "I am proud of you four! Now, we will have a brief break to allow our contestants to rest. Feel free to move about the stadium, but we ask that no one leave the premises until the other two rounds are complete! We will reconvene in half an hour!"

That said, the spectators rose and began milling about the stadium, while the four remaining contestants took a much-needed break. This would be one of their last moments of peace until after the invasion, and they all knew it. The ominous feeling in the air made each of them savor these few moments of peace. Hopefully, the battle to come could be ended before it really got going.

A/N: Hope you all liked that one. As promised, it's longer than chapter 11. I'm going to be focusing on this fic for the next little while, so hopefully it'll be done by Valentine's Day! Yeah, that's right, we're that close to this fic being complete! Thanks to all of you who have stuck with it this long!