Chapter 13

The half hour break between rounds had passed relatively peacefully. Murmurs could be heard around the stadium about Sasuke's declaration to Naruto during their brief battle. Not a single person, spectator, judge, or otherwise, was taking up Sasuke's cause. The Uchiha had as much as declared he hoped his own village was destroyed, or, at the very least, that he flat-out didn't care what happened to it!

As everyone geared up for the second round, Naruto and Kankuro were tense, expectant. Kankuro had been told that his second-round match would now signal the beginning of the invasion, since Gaara had been eliminated. Orochimaru, who had spent the half hour since the first round ended walking through the stands and speaking to some of the spectators seemingly at random, never noticed the sand that was now surrounding three sides of his seat when he returned to his place in the Kage box. Even if he had noticed it, he would have perceived it as no threat; there was no chakra in the sand, and, besides, Gaara was on his side.

Naruto and Kankuro were called and made their way to the bottom of the arena. The two faced off, Kankuro with his puppet out and Naruto in his ready stance. When the proctor began the match, Naruto moved. Kankuro's puppet moved to get in his way. Naruto simply backhanded it out of his way. Kankuro, surprised at how easily the blond had brushed off Crow, wasn't ready for Naruto's punch, so he took it square on the jaw. Kankuro flew a few feet and rolled to a stop. Naruto chuckled; that was almost too easy!

As it turned out, it was too easy. Naruto suddenly found himself airborne as a harsh uppercut came from literally below his feet. One of Kankuro's puppet's arms had been separated from the rest of the puppet, hidden in the ground, and had flown up when Naruto's guard was down and hit him square on the chin. Naruto used the momentum of the attack to flip and land in a crouch rather than on his back or head. Rubbing his jaw, he grinned at the dark-haired boy. "Good move, Kankuro," he said. "But it won't be working again!"

Kankuro just grinned and twitched his hands as he regained his feet. Crow's limbs all detached, along with his head, and each extremity grew a blade from where it had been joined to the puppet's torso. Kankuro sent these five blades flying at his blond opponent at insane speeds. Naruto was barely able to dodge them all. The head, which impaled the ground, seemed to be glaring up at Naruto. Naruto chuckled and picked it up. Tossing it into the air once, he punched it hard when it came down, sending it flying toward the puppet-master.

Kankuro managed to regain control of Crow's head seconds before the blade coming from it impaled his throat. Naruto grinned as he formed a slew of Shadow Clones. "You might have been able to hit one of me," one said. "But how about all of us?" another asked. Kankuro grinned. This was going to be fun!

Crow flew through the air, throwing pellets at the crowd of blond clones. The pellets each exploded into dark smoke. Kankuro wasn't using poison here, but he wasn't above using smoke to hide. He leapt into the trees near one wall of the arena and had Crow begin to thin the ranks of Naruto's clones.

Naruto chuckled as he felt his clones dispelling; one had happened to see Kankuro moving into the trees. Naruto made a slew more to replenish the numbers, then slipped into the trees himself. As Crow flew, hitting here, stabbing there, impaling next, the real Naruto hid himself among the trees where Kankuro was hiding already. The blond quietly formed a Rasengan in one hand. When he felt the last of his clones dispel, he moved.

Naruto charged at the tree where Kankuro had hidden himself. "Rasengan!" he called as he plowed it into the tree, which was reduced to splinters. Kankuro was barely able to jump out of the tree and land back in the middle of the arena. He hated to admit it, but he was impressed Naruto had found him so easily. He was beginning to believe this boy really could have killed Gaara. Naruto chuckled and made his way back out of the trees to face off with Kankuro again. "I sensed a presence on my first C-rank that even my Jonin sensei didn't notice, and you really think you can hide from me?" he asked rhetorically.

Kankuro was surprised to hear that, but, when he thought about it, he really shouldn't have been; all he really knew about the blond in front of him was that he could have killed Gaara of all people. "Maybe I can't hide," Kankuro said then, smirking. "But I don't really need to when I can defeat you without hiding, do I?"

Naruto shook his head in a way that silently screamed, "If you only knew." Kankuro just smirked at the blond's overconfidence and moved his hands to send Crow at the boy again. Crow flew at Naruto, mouth open. Naruto ducked under the puppet and kicked upward, weight supported on his arms. The puppet took the brunt of the attack on its torso, which shattered on impact. Obviously, Crow's arms, legs, and head were still deadly weapons, but its torso was now useless. Naruto ran at the puppet-master. As Kankuro ducked under Naruto's kick, the blond said softly, "I'll repair him for you after we're done here." Kankuro gave an appreciative nod in response.

Kankuro gave a low sweeping kick that made Naruto jump to avoid it, then the two faced off once again. This time, it was Kankuro who attacked. Naruto dodged frantically as Crow's limbs came flying at him, only to run straight into two shuriken flung by Kankuro himself. Naruto's arms were each hit just above the elbow. That was the signal.

In the next second, a lot happened all at once. Four figures hidden in the crowd leapt from their disguises to the roof of the Kage box, Orochimaru stood and grabbed Tsunade, kunai to her throat, a genjutsu was cast on the spectators, causing them to fall asleep, Kankuro flung the five pieces of Crow that were still usable toward the Kage box, seemingly aiming for Tsunade, Gaara rose to his feet and wrapped both Tsunade and Orochimaru's feet in the sand that had been behind Orochimaru's chair so that neither could move from where they stood, and close to thirty Leaf ANBU began moving through the crowd, killing anything that was awake and wearing a Sound headband.

While the Leaf ANBU exterminated the Sound invaders who had been hiding in the stands, Gaara stepped into the Kage box and glared at Orochimaru. "So, Gaara, you've made yourself known. What is the meaning of this?" the "Kazekage" snarled. "You were meant to aid the invasion, not impede me!"

Gaara just grinned before releasing Tsunade from his sand. At the same moment, Tsunade leaned forward and bit Orochimaru's hand, causing him to drop the kunai at her throat and allowing her to get away from him. Gaara quickly surrounded the snake Sannin with sand. Orochimaru ranted from within the sand coffin that so simple a move would not kill him, that he would escape it eventually, on and on. Gaara held up a hand and formed a fist. Orochimaru's rant suddenly ceased as the Sannin became the Ninin. Tsunade gave Gaara a wry smile. "That was anticlimactic," she commented. Shaking her head, she continued, "To think, one of the Sannin would be killed by a lowly Genin."

Gaara chuckled. "True, but I'm no ordinary Genin," he said. Tsunade nodded, granting his point. Meanwhile, on the roof of the Kage box, the Sound Four, as they were known, found themselves surrounded by Leaf ANBU and quickly surrendered. The red-haired boy reformed his sand into the gourd he carried on his back.

The rest of the Sound troops were quickly dispatched by Leaf ninja, and the "invasion" of the Leaf Village was over before it had really begun. The very few Sand ninja who had continued to fight against the Leaf despite Gaara's change of heart quickly surrendered or died as the entirety of the Leaf Village's military force bore down upon them.

One Might Guy addressed one Kakashi Hatake. "How many did you take down, Kakashi?" he asked.

Kakashi sighed. "Twenty-three," he answered.

Guy paused a moment to throw a final Sound ninja through a nearby wall. "That was my twenty-fifth," he said back. "Guess I win again, Kakashi!" He smiled wide, and light reflected off his teeth. Kakashi just sighed and shook his head. Guy chuckled. "I love that too-cool attitude of yours, Kakashi! It is why you are my eternal rival!"

As the two were slowly lowering themselves out of their ready stances, a man wearing red and with long white hair landed hard beside them. Kakashi blinked once. "Oh, hi Jiraiya," he said calmly.

Guy, on the other hand, leapt about a foot in the air. "Master Jiraiya!" he said excitedly. "It is an honor to finally meet you!" He shook the man's hand hard. Jiraiya eventually extracted his hand from the green-wearing Jonin's.

"Yes, you as well, Guy," he said back. "Kakashi, Guy, I was sent to fetch you two and bring you to the Kage box, so please, follow me."

Within minutes, Gaara, Temari, Kankuro, Naruto, Tsunade, Kakashi, Jiraiya, and Guy were all in the Kage box and a silencing seal was in place to keep their conversation private. Tsunade spoke quietly, "We have a problem." Everyone came to attention at that. "Shikamaru is missing."


Meanwhile, Baki was running toward the main gate of the Leaf Village with a human-shaped bundle under his arm. He was one of the very few Sand Jonin who had remained loyal to the "Kazekage" despite Gaara switching sides. Now, he was the only Sand ninja left who was brave enough or stupid enough to stand up against the jinchuriki. He had made his way to the waiting area for candidates and abducted one Shikamaru Nara. Now, he was running.

Shikamaru, meanwhile, was slowly waking up. Baki hadn't bothered to cast a sleeping jutsu on the already-asleep shadow-user. Suddenly, Baki tripped and landed flat on his face, leaving Shikamaru to roll away from the Jonin as the two landed hard on the ground. Shikamaru rolled to his feet quickly and faced the man. Baki rose and the two glared at each other. Neither wanted to make the first move. Shikamaru chuckled; the Sand Jonin had taken him to the ideal environment for him; they were surrounded by shadows.

Baki eventually made to attack Shikamaru, wind chakra building around him as he moved with the intent of cutting Shikamaru to bits as he had recently done to a certain Leaf Jonin who had seen him and Kabuto talking.

Shikamaru groaned; this was going to be such a drag! He reached out with his chakra and took control of as many shadows as he could in the immediate vicinity. Baki found himself being pushed around hither and thither by the shadows. Shikamaru snarled at the man. "You know, this is a total drag, but you really should have known better than to try to attack the Leaf Village! Every single one of us will put our lives on the line to stop you, regardless of our rank!" With that, the young boy began to send sharper shadows at the Jonin. Baki, unable to do much in the darkness of the forest, was pierced several times as he tried to throw wind blades at the young Nara, which were dodged easily.

Baki snarled. "Yes, you would put your lives on the line for your village, just as I am doing for mine!" he said back. With that, he ran at Shikamaru again, wind blades flying fast. Shikamaru, groaning that everything was a major drag, fell completely backward to dodge the blades, and sent a single shadow toward the running man at the same time. Baki suddenly froze.

"Shadow Possession, complete!" Shikamaru said smugly. "Now, until my comrades get here, why don't we have a little chat?" Baki snarled, but Shikamaru ignored him. Shikamaru moved backward a short distance, Baki imitating him, and sat on a rock, much to Baki's annoyance; the Jonin was forced to stand in the exact position Shikamaru was sitting in with absolutely nothing to support him! "Look, Baki," Shikamaru said. "I know you think you're fighting for your village, but the man who you think is your Kazekage isn't, that was Orochimaru." Baki looked shocked at this. "Your Kazekage never made it to this village, he was killed on his way here."

"Okay, let's assume for the moment that I believe you," Baki said after a moment. "Why would you tell me this, and why would it matter? I was ordered to attack, that's all that matters!"

Shikamaru face-palmed. "Think for yourself, Baki! Do you really think Orochimaru would be true to his word and not betray your village the way he betrayed his own years ago? Come on, man, think!" he said exasperatedly. "Plus, even your own students are fighting against you, so why keep fighting when even they don't think what you're doing is in the best interests of your village?"

Baki slowly nodded. "All right, I surrender," he said. Shikamaru promptly released the man from his Shadow Possession Jutsu, which resulted in his sore and tired legs giving way and Baki falling to the ground in a very undignified manner. Just then, Kakashi and Guy arrived on the scene with Pakkun leading them.


Back in the arena, the crowd was waking up. Tsunade called out to them, "We apologize for the interruption! The previous match was called due to circumstances, and Kankuro forfeited, so Naruto will advance to the finals! Proctor, please begin the next match!"

The proctor nodded. "Hinata Hyuga and Rock Lee, please come down!" he yelled. When the two contestants were both on the ground of the arena, he called, "And now the final match of the semifinals...BEGINS!" That said, he jumped out of the way.

Hinata and Lee faced off, each in a ready stance, Hinata with her Byakugan blazing. Lee spoke first. "Lady Hinata, let us make this match as youthful and exciting as we can," he said to her.

Hinata smiled slightly; despite the way Neji always talked about Lee, Hinata rather liked the enthusiastic boy. She held out one hand to Lee, who moved forward to shake it. "Yes, Lee, let us give the spectators a show!" she said back. Both backed up again, and the match began.

Hinata moved first, her hands blazing with chakra. Lee dodged and deflected her attacks frantically, knowing that even a glancing blow could cause serious damage. Hinata smirked; this wasn't the typical fight for the finals of the Chunin Exams, but oh well. She went in for a low sweeping kick, which sent Lee spinning as it connected with his arm, which he had been balancing on after dodging her previous attack.

Lee rose to his feet after Hinata's attack and grinned at the girl. "I see now why you were able to defeat Neji," he said. Hinata just smirked. "All right then, my turn!" With that, Lee ran at Hinata, arms and legs flying quickly. Hinata dodged and blocked his attacks easily, but just then Lee put on a burst of speed. "Leaf Whirlwind!" he called out as his final kick connected with Hinata's cheek, sending the girl flying a few feet. She came to rest on her back.

Rising to her feet again, the girl breathed hard a few seconds and wiped blood from her mouth. She smiled at Lee and commented lightly, "A fine attack, Lee." Lee grinned and nodded. "But not good enough." She ran at him again, Byakugan active, hands flying quickly. Lee, unprepared for her to attack again so quickly or aggressively, was barely able to block or deflect her moves. Hinata made a single clone with neither word nor hand-sign, which formed a low-powered Rasengan and attacked the distracted Lee from behind. Lee was sent flying again, this time ending up buried in the far wall of the arena, dazed.

The proctor went to check on Lee. "Lee is unable to continue!" he called out. "Winner: Hinata Hyuga!"

Tsunade rose to her feet and called out, "This concludes the semifinal round of the Chunin Exams! We again ask that no one leave the arena until after the final round, but we will once again give you and the contestants a half hour to rest and recover before the finals." That said, she slumped into her chair, emotionally drained after the events of the day.

Jiraiya came up behind Tsunade and rested his hands on her shoulders. "Hey," he said simply. Tsunade looked up at her one remaining teammate and smiled tiredly. Jiraiya knelt in front of her and took her hand gently in his. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I think I'll be fine," Tsunade answered after a moment. "Thanks." Jiraiya just patted her hand. Tsunade let loose a few tears. "I know I shouldn't be sad, but he was still my teammate!"

Jiraiya raised himself up and hugged Tsunade. Both of the remaining Sannin sobbed for a few moments for the loss of their old comrade. Jiraiya calmed down first, then held Tsunade while she cried herself out. As he pulled back, he kissed her on the cheek playfully. Tsunade looked at him in surprise. Jiraiya flinched away, fear evident; he was expecting to get beat for that. Tsunade just smiled, then leaned in and kissed Jiraiya's cheek.

Jiraiya grinned and stood a small distance behind and to the side of Tsunade. He would remain there until the finals were completed. "Maybe everything will turn out all right after all," the old sage thought to himself.

A/N: And there it is! Chapter 13 is done! Only two more chapters left, for those of you who are keeping track. The next chapter will wrap up the bulk of the story, and 15 will be a post-timeskip epilogue, so we're really that close to being done. I hope to post the epilogue on Valentine's Day, so yeah, thanks again to everyone who stuck with this fic so long!