Naruto: Myoushuu no Fuuin

by May Wren

Chapter Nine


"You passed 38 teams?" Anko asked. "I thought you were going to make your test hard."

"You'll note that twice that number failed," Ibiki pointed out. "And that only half the remaining teams are foreign."

"What's the breakdown of that?" Taka asked.

"Five Mist, four Sand, three Cloud, three Grass, and one each from Sound, Waterfall, Rain, and Haze," Ibiki answered.

"Get rid of Sound and Haze immediately in the second exam," Taka ordered. "A new village and one known for its stupid ninja can't go forward."


"Of the rest, make sure no more than one team per village is allowed to proceed."



The members of Team 7 had been sizing up the other teams as they waited for the exam to begin. Naruto had surreptitiously pointed out to his teammates the few he'd marked as poison experts in the first exam. At Sasuke's signal, Naruto and Sakura's attention shifted to the Konoha examiners, who had gathered together and appeared almost ready to start.

"Alright, you brats, shut up and listen," a woman with purple hair began, cutting through the assembled genins' chatter easily. "I'm Mitarashi Anko, Chief Examiner for the second phase of these Chuunin Exams. In a few moments, we'll be assigning each team a randomly selected entrance gate into Training Ground #44, also known as the forest of death. The goal of this exam is to survive the forest and each other until you acquire 25 points, then make it to the tower in the middle of the forest within five days and with all of your teammates alive and conscious."

She paused there and smiled—a wicked grin

"All of you got a wooden token with a number burned into it at the end of the last exam. If you lost it, you're screwed and it's not my problem so don't come whining to me," she said.

Naruto's eyes were scanning the crowd to see which of the genin made tells that they were holding on to their little pieces of wood. He was pleased to have caught about ten of them out at it, and even more pleased that Sasuke made no move at all.

"Numbers on your chits range from two to ten, and that number is how many points it's worth. And in this exam, anything goes for getting those tokens from each other. Now get your asses in line so I can start giving you your entry gates. Oh, and by the way, you'll also have to sign waivers. Wouldn't want to get in trouble in case any of you die."

Naruto held back a giant grin as Anko finished her explanation. No mention was made of having to fight for the chits, or even of them having to obtain them while they were in the forest. So while everyone was milling around, waiting for everyone else to sign the waiver forms and get their gate assignments, Naruto went to work.

"I have a plan," Naruto said, voice low; Sakura and Sasuke gave him their full attention. "Just follow along with me as we get into line, and signal me if anyone starts looking at me too hard, alright?"

Sasuke narrowed his eyes but didn't protest as Sakura nodded. Naruto took a rather circuitous path as he carefully made his way through the gathered genin, picking easy marks as he went. By the time they were at the front of the line to receive their gate assignment, Naruto had managed to pick the pockets of about three dozen genin, though he'd only managed to snag five tokens.

"Got 'em," Naruto murmured as they ducked into the tent.

"Hmm, you three are Kakashi's brats, aren't you," Anko said, giving them the eye. "Sure as shit don't look like much, no matter what I've heard."

"Ano, there is an old shinobi proverb, Mitarashi-sempai," Sakura said, the very picture of diffidence and respect. "It is a great ability to hide one's abilities."

Anko snorted. "Sure, kid. Whatever you say. You brats are at gate 32. Listen for the starting gun—gates will only stay open for five minutes then you're either on the inside for five days or you forfeit. Now scram."

"I got three twos, a seven, and a six," Naruto said quietly as Team 7 settled into place at their assigned gate.

"You picked their pockets, didn't you," Sakura said, shaking her head. "I was even watching you and I didn't see you take them."

"Ah hah, well, you know." Naruto scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. "Practice makes perfect?"

Sasuke snorted and Sakura just grinned.

"I guess it does. Good job, Naruto-kun. With our nine, that makes 28. So we should run straight for the tower, full speed," Sakura suggested. "No point in getting into a fight when we already have the points."

"I was hoping for some serious opponents," Sasuke complained in distaste.

"Would you rather get into random fights or make Chuunin?" Naruto asked. "Because we have no idea what's supposed to come after this, and I for one would rather be fresh for it."

"Tch," Sasuke tisked, but he didn't offer any more complaint. Then the gun sounded, and they were off. When they reached the tower twenty minutes later, jaws dropped. Iruka and the two other Chuunin who were guarding the entrance to the tower were speechless. The Jounin watching from the monitors set up on the top floor of the tower, however, were not.

"Twenty minutes?" Kurenai was saying in disbelief. "Twenty minutes? How is that even possible? That doesn't just break the old record, it obliterates it."

Asuma picked his cigarette up from where it had fallen out of his mouth.

"That should be impossible," he said. "They would have had to sprint straight here from the gate to get here so quickly. There's no way they could have stopped to fight anyone for a single chit, much less five of them."

Kakashi just smiled.

"The sexy and deadly Anko is now here!" Anko yelled, bouncing into the room. "I sure gave those twerps something to think about. So what's up?"

"Kakashi's brats already made it," Hayate said.

"What!" Anko shrieked. "But… but… what! Kakashi, did you give them an extra chit?"

"Of course not," Kakashi said, affronted at the thought that his students would need the help.

"Besides, even if he did, they got here with six of them," Asuma said, glaring at Kakashi.

"Six?" Anko yelled. "They must have cheated. Kakashi, what did you tell them."

"My students are exceptional shinobi," Kakashi said, projecting his displeasure in his voice. "They would never have needed me to help them figure out such a simple task."

"Why you little…" Asuma and Kurenai had to hold Anko's arms to keep her from gouging Kakashi's remaining eye out at that.

"But as for cheating…" Kakashi shrugged. "Well, all you told them was to bring 25 points worth of tokens to the tower. So really, could it have been considered cheating?"

"But how could they have?" Anko whined. "I was watching them the whole time."

"Well," Kakashi said, rubbing his chin in thought. The others leaned in, wondering what he was going to say.

"They're tricky little devils."

The other Jounin groaned in exasperation.

"They are indeed," Ibiki agreed as he entered. "For not having a poison user on your team, they got through my test with the second highest score awarded."

"Really?" Kakashi sat up at that, looking at him with ill-concealed interest.

"Mm," Ibiki said. "A 9 is very solid. 15 were technically possible, but nobody actually got higher than a 10."

"And they just got here with six tokens!" Anko complained. "In under 20 minutes! Kakashi, you're creating little monsters here."

"Monsters?" Kakashi scoffed. "No, I'm creating the next leaders of Konoha. If my guess is right, they'll all be promoted to Chuunin in this exam. And they'll make Jounin before they hit 15. Unless, of course, they burn my Icha Icha collection again, in which case I'll probably have to murder them all in their beds."

All the Jounin in the room blinked at him with incomprehension clear on their faces.

"Are they really that good?" Kurenai finally asked hesitantly, wondering if she shouldn't have signed up to be a Jounin-sensei if this were what was expected.

"Tch, of course not," Asuma drawled, reassuring her. "Just typical bragging. All the Jounin-sensei do it. Kind of an informal competition to say if my genin are better than yours, obviously I'm better than you."

"Funny, then, isn't it?" Kakashi said with a smirk that reminded Ibiki of Naruto. "That it's my kids who are blowing everyone else out of the water? Goodness, if the 'dried-up old Jounin,' the 'burn out resting on his laurels,' produced kids like this, what does that say about the rest of you? Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see to my team."

Ibiki got up and left with him, drawing a raised eyebrow from the Copy-Nin.

"Don't mind if I tag along, right?" he asked. "After all, I'd like to see the great Jounin-sensei at work. It must have been some doing to get them to be using ANBU signs so easily it's second nature."

Kakashi shrugged and continued walking.

"They're naturals," Kakashi said. "Sasuke and Naruto will be ANBU within a year. Sakura will most likely follow, because Team 7 sticks together with everything. Better for them to start using it now and get it right than to fumble with it under some inept rookie captain."

Ibiki didn't have anything to say to that. He imagined that even if he had, Kakashi would completely disregard it anyway.

"So," Kakashi drawled as he found the room his team had been given for use until the second exam was over. "You guys made it already, hunh?"

"Of course!" Naruto said. "Like some wimpy tests would stop us."

Sakura rolled her eyes and Sasuke grunted his agreement. Ibiki gave Kakashi a raised eyebrow.

"Your team's a little cocky, don't you think?"

"It isn't arrogance if it's true," Sakura said primly. Naruto and Sasuke both snickered.

"Ma, ma, that's enough," Kakashi said mildly. Ibiki was impressed at the genins' immediate change in demeanor as they fell into line with serious expressions and alert postures at Kakashi's mild words. "Report."

As the genin took turns briefing their sensei on the first two exams, Ibiki found his respect for them and Kakashi growing.

"You picked their pockets?" Ibiki interrupted, finding this hilarious. Naruto looked between him and Kakashi, asking silently whether he was going to get in any trouble over that.

"Hey, I won't say a word," Ibiki said. "I think it's great. Shows you were thinking about the best and cleanest way to achieve the mission objective instead of any personal glory. Although I have to say, it's a good thing you were only picking the pockets of genin. If you try that with an experienced ninja, you're liable to lose your hand."

"Of course. Right, right," Naruto said, rubbing the back of his head with a foxy grin on his face. "I'd never try such a thing on someone able to catch me. Oh, hey, that reminds me. I wanted to show you something I picked up from one of the Konoha genin, Kaka-sensei."

"Yeah, those cards were weird," Sakura agreed. Kakashi tilted his head to the side and Naruto pulled a deck of cards out of one of his many pouches and handed them over.

"They have information about all of the genin in the exam on them," Naruto said. "But they only activated when Kabuto put his chakra through them. I'm not sure what'll happen if someone else tries."

"What kind of information," Ibiki asked, intrigued.

"Names, photos, abilities, number and types of missions," Sakura offered.

"He knew we had two A-ranks," Sasuke said. Ibiki's eyebrows raised significantly.

"I see," Ibiki said. "Well, I'll be taking these and getting them looked at. For now, don't mention this to anyone. And Kakashi, your kids have my vote."

And with that, Ibiki left the team to talk amongst themselves.

"What does he mean about voting?" Sasuke asked.

"Nothing for you to be concerned with just yet," Kakashi said. "For now, I can tell you that the Final Exam is basically a single knock-out tournament that will happen in about a month. Depending on how many teams make it through Anko's test, though, we might have to have some preliminaries. Given how many tokens you three had, I don't think it'll be likely."


Kabuto, as it turned out, was an exceptionally gifted medic nin, and an overall very smart shinobi. But he wasn't better at hiding information than the combined efforts of the Torture and Interrogation Squad were at ferreting that information out.

It had only taken them 29 hours to break the security on the cards Naruto had swiped, and only a handful more to analyze the information they contained and come to a conclusion. Kabuto was almost certainly an enemy agent.

So Ibiki had taken three ANBU squads into the Forest of Death to lay in wait at the tower for Kabuto to show. And, though it was likely overkill, Ibiki thought it was better to be prepared than to be caught by surprise and allow him to escape back to his master. Ibiki really, really wanted to know who his master was and he wasn't going to take any chances. So he waited for Kabuto's team to arrive.

Finally, with only a day remaining in the exam, Kabuto's team appeared a the gate and presented 26 points worth of tokens.

"Congratulations," Iruka told them, smiling easily as he pocketed the chits. "Let me call one of the Jounin examiners to escort you to your rooms while we wait for the exam to be over?" Kabuto's eyes went momentarily wide when Ibiki walked out, and Ibiki could see the worry and concern flare briefly before they were covered with innocent-looking confusion.

"Congratulations on making it through the second test," Ibiki said, keeping to his part as an examiner. "Come with me. I'll show you where you can rest for the time that remains." Then, to put Kabuto more at ease, he turned his back on them and began to walk away. Kabuto, he knew, would follow. And as soon as they got through the door, the ANBU attacked. Kabuto and his teammates were captured—bound and unconscious—within moments. Ibiki grinned and ordered them brought to T&I so he could begin his work.

He broke them in under two days.


"Don't think it'll be likely my ass," Naruto muttered as the six teams who made it through the second exam were told about the preliminaries for the final. The new proctor—a sickly looking special Jounin named Hayate—explained the rules. Then all of the teams went up to the observation balcony with their Jounin sensei to wait for their names to be called.

Everyone watched with anticipation as the first match-up flickered on the screen: Haruno Sakura vs. Inuzuka Kiba.

"Aw, man," Kiba complained. "I was really hoping for a tough match-up, where I could show off my skills a little bit."

"Kiba," Sakura said sharply. "Because you're a fellow Leaf nin, I will tell you this: Do not expect me to be the same little girl you knew at the Academy. I am a proud kunoichi of Konoha, and to treat this match as something not worth your full skills and attention isn't only dishonorable… you'll also get hurt."

"Hah!" Kiba scoffed. "Bring it on. I won't even need Akamaru for this fight."

Sakura's brow furrowed briefly in annoyance before she smoothed it back out. Then they were facing each other, and Hayate was signaling them to begin. The match was embarrassingly short. For Kiba, anyway. Sakura didn't bother trying one of her genjutsu, knowing Kiba's sensei was a genjutsu mistress, and assuming (correctly) that Kurenai had taught them well how to break out of them. Instead, as Kiba made a show of yawning and cracking his knuckles, Sakura disappeared and reappeared behind him and with one senbon, put it in the pressure point in his neck that made him pass out.

Kurenai dropped her head into her hands in dismay, and decided Kiba would be getting a hell week for training and a stern talking to.

"Winner, Haruno Sakura," Hayate said, waving the medics into the arena to wake the boy. Sakura made her way back up to her teammates.

"Good job, Sakura!" Naruto congratulated her. Sasuke nodded and Kakashi gave her a one-eyed smile and a pat on the head.

"Sensei!" Sakura complained, smoothing her hair back and glaring, though the corners of her lips were twitching up. The rest of the Rookie Nine looked on in shock.

"That… was brutally efficient," Shikamaru said, reevaluating Team 7. Sakura shrugged.

"I tried to warn him," she said. And indeed, they all recalled she had.

The next match-up came up on the board, drawing everyone's attention: Hyuuga Neji v. Yamanaka Ino.

"Good luck, Ino," Chouji said, munching on some chips. Shikamaru looked between Ino and Neji and sighed as Ino flicked her hair and sashayed her way down to the steps.

"Watch me, Sasuke-kun," she said flirtatiously. "I'll…"

"Ino, take this seriously," Sakura said.

"What? I am serious," Ino exclaimed, annoyed Sakura had interrupted her flirting with Sasuke. "I am going to win Sasuke-kun from you. Just watch me."

"That wasn't what I meant, Ino," Sakura shook her head, but Ino was already marching down the stairs to the arena.

"This is going to be so troublesome," Shikamaru sighed.

The two opponents stood across from each other.

"You are a pathetic excuse for a ninja," Neji said calmly. "These eyes, they see everything. They see how nervous you are, how unsure of yourself. They see your eyes going to the Uchiha, and know you wish acknowledgement from him above all things. Which makes you a pitiable, weak excuse for a kunoichi. You think 'love' is more important than training, and care about your looks more than your skills. You should quit now, and thank me for defeating you and showing you what a sorry, useless little girl you are."

"Ma, are you going to fight or chat?" Hayate asked. "Begin."

"I… but…" Ino tried to protest. But Neji was already on her, connecting the devastating Jyuuken strikes to her arms even as she tried to block. She tried her basic Academy taijutsu and even a few of the more advanced ones her father had made her learn, but it was no use. Then Neji stepped back and waited. She hurried to put her fingers together in her family's signature jutsu, but no chakra would come.

"I've blocked all of your chakra," Neji explained. "Such is the power of the Hyuuga family. You should give up now, to avoid getting more injured."

"No!" Ino yelled, starting to tear up. "I won't let Sakura surpass me. I have to win, so I can win Sasuke-kun's…"

Neji cut her off, striking the side of her neck in a disabling blow.

"Winner, Hyuuga Neji," Hayate announced as Ino fell unconscious. The medics came to take her away, and Neji went back to the observation balcony.

"You didn't have to say those things," Shikamaru said angrily, confronting him as he came up the steps.

"I said nothing that wasn't true," Neji said, unconcerned. "Better that she know them now than on a mission where it will get her killed."

"Even so, you were unnecessarily cruel," Shikamaru said.

"Fate often is," Neji said, turning away.

A new match-up came up on the board, interrupting the boys. Ten Ten v. Uchiha Sasuke. Sasuke smirked.

"Have fun, teme," Naruto said. Sasuke only nodded and headed down. He and Ten Ten stood opposite each other, waiting for Hayate to let them begin.

"What, no pre-match banter?" Hayate muttered. "Fine. Begin."

And both opponents began to move. Ten Ten began to barrage Sasuke with an overabundance of throwing weapons—and some that weren't but that she threw anyway. Sasuke activated his Sharingan; knowing where each weapon was and was going to be, he dodged everything, slowly making his way towards her. She figured out his plan and suddenly jumped into the air, pulling out two scrolls.

"You're good," she said. "I was going to try to save these for the finals, but you've forced me into it." Sasuke wasn't sure what was in the scrolls, but he'd seen Naruto with enough to recognize them as summoning scrolls. So as she unrolled them and began the jutsu to cause them to spin around her in a double helix, Sasuke prepared a jutsu of his own.

"Katon: Housenka no Jutsu," Sasuke said, exhaling and shooting a dozen fireballs at her. The scrolls caught on fire and burned to ash within seconds, causing Ten Ten to fall out of the jutsu prematurely. She twisted herself to at least help her control her landing, but Sasuke was there, grabbing her arm and knocking her into the wall and unconsciousness.

"Winner, Uchiha Sasuke," Hayate said, coughing.

"Ten Ten!" Lee cried, jumping down to help her to the medics.

"That's two of your brats to make it to the finals," Asuma said consideringly as he dragged on a cigarette.

"Mm," Kakashi agreed.

"You appear to have trained your students very well, my rival," Gai said. "We should never have doubted you."

Kakashi sighed, wishing Gai hadn't said that within hearing range of the kids.

"Kakashi-sensei is the best," Sakura defended loyally.

"Why would you ever question his ability to train us?" Naruto asked.

"It's not like you guys were able to produce anything spectacular," Sasuke scoffed, looking in particular at Kiba and Ino, who'd been returned from the medics after she'd woken up. Asuma raised both eyebrows as Kurenai flushed and Gai frowned.

"Ma, ma, that's enough, kids," Kakashi said mildly. "I can take care of myself you know."

All three genin frowned at him, then exchanged glances before nodding. They'd deal with it after the exam.

"Good match, by the way," Kakashi said, ruffling Sasuke's hair.

"Tch," he dismissed the words as he looked down. But he didn't move away. And Sakura and Naruto subtly moved in between Kakashi and the other Jounin, still glaring at them. Being Jounin, they didn't miss the interplay or its significance.

The board announced another match, drawing their attention away. Sabaku no Gaara v. Tamachi Hitsuke.

"So do we know anything about either of these guys?" Shikamaru asked.

"Sabaku no Gaara is the youngest child of the Kazekage," Naruto supplied. "His teammates are his older siblings Temari and Kankurou. The gourd Gaara carries holds sand he uses in his main attacks. He's a highly dangerous opponent who will not hesitate to kill you. His sister Temari specializes in wind jutsu used in concert with her giant fan, and his brother Kankurou is a puppet master. "

Everyone but his team looked at him in surprise; it wasn't that Team 7 had gotten quite used to him having strange and unexpected knowledge (though they had), but rather that he'd already shared all of his recon intel on the potential opposition with them.

"Tamachi Hitsuke is a Rain nin," he continued. "He has no specialty, and is only average in nin, gen, and taijutsu. His teammates make up for this lack on missions, but in one-on-one fighting, it puts him at a disadvantage. He's probably only made it this far because his older brother is on the team: Tamachi Kichiro. Now he's one to look out for. Take care if he opens his umbrella, he uses it for area-effect attacks. His other teammate is Hadana Kiku, who specializes in poisons, as she's immune to most of them through one of Rain's bloodlines. She's very smart, but doesn't have much in the way of chakra."

"How do you know all that?" Shikamaru finally asked. Naruto shrugged.

"I'm a ninja. It's my job to know these things about my opponents," he said. "Do you mean to tell me none of you did any recon on your potential opposition?"

"What have your sensei been teaching you if you don't even know the importance of gathering intelligence?" Sakura asked, feigning innocence even as she got the swipe in.

"But when did you have time?" Chouji asked, confused.

"There are benefits to getting to the tower early," Naruto said. "And we've been here the whole five days."

As the opponents met on the arena floor, Gaara began to speak, drawing the attention of those on the balcony to him and away from Naruto.

"Mother wants your blood," he said, voice low but able to carry throughout the arena. "You are going to prove my existence."

"Begin," Hayate said. The Rain nin rushed him, hoping for a quick victory against the obviously unstable boy. Left jab, roundhouse kick, right knife hand… But Gaara's sand met each strike, and he didn't even have to move. It went on this way for a time, as the Rain nin became more and more frustrated. Finally, he jumped back, panting and wondering what else he could do to defeat Gaara.

"My turn," Gaara said, sand pouring out of his gourd and rushing towards Hitsuke. "Desert Coffin." Hitsuke tried to dodge the sand, but was too slow, and he was shortly enveloped.

"No!" one of the Rain nins on the balcony yelled, trying to jump down.

"That's Tamachi Kichiro," Naruto murmured.

"Desert Funeral," Gaara said, closing his fist as the sand smashed the nin it held inside.

"No!" Kichiro screamed. "Hitsuke!"

Hayate, Anko, and Ibiki were between Gaara and Hitsuke, dispelling the sand. Ino, Chouji, and Kiba all got sick at the sight of Hitsuke's broken body. Sakura flinched and looked away. Sasuke and Naruto, standing on either side of her, shifted closer so that they brushed against her, offering what comfort they could.

"Winner, Sabaku no Gaara," Hayate said quietly. Gaara only stared at him. "Go back to your team, Gaara-san." Gaara looked to Hitsuke, then back to Hayate. Anko came to stand slightly behind and to the left of him, so she was able to support and not be in the way if it came down to it, as Gaara was clearly unstable. Ibiki was bent over the broken body, checking for a pulse. As the medics came out, he shook his head; Hitsuke was dead.

"No!" Kichiro yelled, finally breaking free from his teammate and sensei's grip and rushing the floor. He was over to his brother in a moment, shoving past Ibiki to cradle his body in his arms. The arena was silent. Finally, he allowed the medics to take his brother's body away and he slowly stood up, glaring at Gaara the entire time.

"I am going to kill you," he said.

"You will prove my existence," Gaara said.

"Maybe, but not now," Hayate interrupted. "For now, we gotta finish up these matches. So if you two are gonna kill each other, you're gonna have to wait for a while. And if you're gonna do it, please wait 'til you're in a sanctioned match or you're outside of Konoha and Fire. It would be a pain to deal with the paperwork involved if you kill each other otherwise."

Kichiro trembled and glared, then shuddered and seemed to get himself under control, ignoring Gaara and the rest of the world as he headed back up to the observation balcony. Gaara pulled his sand back into his gourd, then joined his siblings.

The next match came up on the board: Hyuuga Hinata v. Sabaku no Temari.

"Aw, man, good luck, Hinata," Kiba said, slapping her back. Hinata stumbled a bit at the force.

"Do your best," Shino said, nodding to her. "Keep Naruto's information on her in mind."

"Hai, Shino-kun," she stuttered.

"Begin," Hayate said when they were both down there.

"This is my fan," Temari said, planting it in front of her with a flourish. "When you see three stars, you'll know it's over."

Hinata nodded, not in agreement so much as acknowledgement that she'd heard. Then she attacked, rushing forward in an attempt to engage Temari in hand-to-hand. But Temari was having nothing to do with it.

"One," she said, opening her fan part of the way to reveal a purple circle. She swept her fan, causing wind to blow through the arena, pitching Hinata back and away.

"Is that all you've got, little girl?" Temari asked snidely. As Hinata got up, she used her body to hide her hands as they ran through a series of hand seals.

"Forest Deceit," she said softly as a massive forest sprang up around them, covering the entire arena.

"Genjutsu," Temari spat. "Kai!" But it wasn't enough to dispel the technique. She tried again, then felt a hand slapping her arm and jumped away. Temari shook it, trying to get the feeling back. When she couldn't, she realized she'd have to get serious.

"You're making me show you all three stars sooner than I expected," Temari said. She couldn't see Hinata, but with her wind jutsu, she didn't need to. She flicked her fan and it fell all the way open, three large purple circles prominently displayed.

"Desert Windstorm," she yelled, twisting around with her fan, blowing massive gusts of wind around the entire arena. Even those in the observation balcony had to steady themselves. Sakura grabbed Ino by the collar as she went flying past him, and Kakashi gave a raised eyebrow to Asuma, as though to say, 'and you were questioning my teaching?'

Hinata was caught in the brunt of it and, though she tried to reinforce her feet with chakra, the wind was too strong and tore her away, throwing her into a wall so quickly she wasn't even able to control her landing. She hit her head and was knocked out. Her genjutsu dispelled.

"Winner, Sabaku no Temari," Hayate said. The medics took Hinata away.

"That was quite a genjutsu for a rookie genin to pull off," Kakashi said.

"She was more than able and ready for it," Kurenai said defensively.

"Kakashi-sensei was trying to give you a compliment, Kurenai-san," Sakura said.

"Sakura," Kakashi reprimanded gently.

"But Kaka-sensei," Sakura tried, but she cut herself off at his look. "Sorry, Sensei."

"Your students are very protective of you," Asuma drawled, looking at the four of them. Kakashi gave one of his one-eyed smiles.

"A team that doesn't care for each other is worthless," was all Kakashi said.

Then the board showed the next match-up: Tamachi Kichiro v. Lee

"You should forfeit," Kichiro told Lee. "I will be going to the finals to kill that bastard who killed my brother. If I have to kill you to do it, I won't hesitate."

"Yosh, how unyouthful!" Lee said, shaking his head. "I shall not forfeit before I've had a chance to show my flames of youth."

"I will avenge my brother," Kichiro said. "It's your funeral if you get in my way."

"Begin," Hayate said.

Lee shot forward in a burst of speed, but Kichiro was already in the air, opening one of the umbrellas on his back.

"Senbon Shower," Kichiro called, and the umbrella began rapidly spinning as it rained down senbon. To the surprise of most of those gathered, Lee was fast enough to dash back and forth, dodging the senbon as they fell. When the jutsu stopped, Lee smiled and gave a thumbs up.

"Yosh, that was truly a fearsome jutsu, Tamachi-san," Lee said. "But I… I…"

Lee began to sway.

"But no matter how fast you were, you couldn't avoid being scratched by at least one," Kichiro said, dropping back down to the floor and returning his umbrella to its place on his back. "Examiner, it's over."

And Lee fell over, unconscious. Gai jumped down from the balcony to see to Lee's injury.

"Winner, Tamachi Kichiro," Hayate said.

"Poison, of course," Gai said, looking to Kichiro, who nodded. "Can we have the antidote?"

"Do you have an antidote to my brother being dead?" Kichiro asked bitterly.

"Tamachi-san, my student had nothing to do with…"

"There is no antidote," Kichiro said. Naruto narrowed his eyes at the Rain nin, who had clutched at one of the straps on his chest. Naruto would have bet good money that he was touching the antidote. "He'll die within a few hours."

"Tamachi-san!" Gai cried. "That is…"

"Gai," the Hokage censored him, shaking his head. Gai clenched his teeth and his fists, then deflated and helped the medics with Lee.

Kichiro coldly turned away and began to make his back way up the stairs to the observation balcony. Naruto narrowed his eyes and made sure to be standing just enough in the middle of the balcony to be in the way.

"Move, twerp," Tamachi sneered as he pushed Naruto out of the way.

"Watch it, jackass," Naruto retorted, slipping an arm around Sakura's waist and a hand into her pouch. A few moments later she signaled to Kakashi that she needed a bathroom break and headed towards the back hallway. As soon as she was out of sight, she used a simple henge to look like any other medic then broke into a sprint to catch up to Gai and the medics as they carried Lee away to the medical facility.

When she saw him, she was reminded of the Konoha team she had tried to help in Wave. Lee was ashen, and his breathing was badly laboured. She extended her fingers to Lee's ankle to get a read on him and found his organs were in the beginning stages of shutting down.

The Rain nin had been right. Lee would certainly die within the next few hours unless he were administered the antidote. That Naruto had slipped a few vials into her bag was great, but she was still in training and didn't have time to analyze anything before she would be missed. And if people caught her doing it, questions about how she'd gotten the antidote would be raised.

It was a moment's work to put Lee's body into temporary stasis—not a true one, of course, as that would have taken more time and concentration than she had while they were running, but one that should slow everything down until help could get there. Then Sakura bit her lip, then regulated her vocal chords and tried to take on the demeanor of all of the medics she'd been training with recently.

"If it's poison, we must get Shizune-senpai," she said, mimicking to the best of her ability. "She's by far the most experienced with poisons in all of Konoha."

"Yosh, I shall retrieve Shizune-san for you immediately!" Gai yelled.

"Wait, give her these antidotes, Jounin-sama," she ordered Gai, falling back from the group to catch him before he darted off. "They may be of some use in your student's case. Now go!"

She blinked in surprise as he disappeared so quickly Sakura could hardly believe he hadn't used a jutsu. Then she waited for the medics taking Lee to turn a corner before she dropped the henge and began the sprint back to the preliminaries, getting back just as she heard Shikamaru's match being announced.

"So, what'd I miss?" she asked, forcing herself to regulate her breath. Kakashi gave her a piercing look which she refused to meet even as she signed 'mission complete' to Naruto and Sasuke.

"Shino and Chouji finished," Sasuke said. "His kikai bugs drained Chouji when he used one of his family's multi-size jutsu. After that, Chouji basically forfeited. And now Shikamaru's up against the other Rain nin, Hadana Kiku. Hayate just let them begin."

Sakura nodded and gave him a smile then turned to watch the fight.

"This is so troublesome," Shikamaru sighed. "Fighting against a girl."

"What, you think kunoichi can't be good ninja?" Kiku asked archly. "Well, I'll just have to disabuse you of that notion."

She threw something to the ground at Shikamaru's feet and, even as he jumped out of the way, it exploded into a cloud of smoke too thick for regular eyes to penetrate. Sakura wondered at the stategy of the Rain nin, who was leaning against the wall looking at her nails. When the smoke cleared, Shikamaru was on the ground, not moving. Ino gasped and Chouji dropped his chips.

"That wasn't a regular smoke bomb, you Leaf chump," Kiku scoffed as she went over to check to make sure Shikamaru was out. "It was filled with poisoned gas. Guess you should've been more concerned about a 'mere' kunoichi, hunh."

She was pulling back a leg to kick him in the ribs when Shikamaru's shadow jumped out, catching hold of her.

"What?" she asked. Shikamaru rolled over off of his stomach and sat up, revealing the bandana he'd tied around his nose and mouth.

"I knew you were a poison expert, and likely to try something like that," Shikamaru explained. "So as soon as the smoke hit, I kept to the ground where there was the least of it and took as few breaths as possible. Then when it cleared, you were overconfident, and all I needed to do was let you get close enough that you couldn't escape my shadow. Now, this is troublesome, but just follow along."

And Shikamaru did a light back flip, but Kiku's nearness to the wall forced her to knock herself out as she mimicked Shikamaru's movements.

"Winner, Nara Shikamaru," Hayate said, a bit surprised.

"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered, shuffling back to the balcony.

"Well, guess that leaves me and you, Kankurou," Naruto said to the Sand ninja. Kankurou nodded, and the two began to head down even as the board lit up to display their names.

Kankurou eyed Naruto as they stood across from each other, waiting for Hayate to let them begin.

"You look like a brawler," he said to Naruto.

"Aw, man," Naruto pouted. "Shit. You found me out."

Hayate raised an eyebrow as he knew very well what Kakashi's team could do. Genma, after a few drinks, had complained loudly about the assessment he'd had to do of them. Very loudly and with enough detail that Hayate planned to give the pink one especially a fairly wide berth.

"Begin," he said, leaping away. Naruto quickly darted in, using a bastardized Jyuuken move that had Neji and Hinata gasping as he slapped a palm to the forehead of what he knew was really Kankurou's puppet. A second later, the seal he'd created for Kakashi's eye activated and completely cut off any and all chakra from being able to move through the puppet. It collapsed into so much wood and the real Kankurou fell out of the wrappings awkwardly as he was cut off from controlling the puppet's movements.

"What the hell did you do to Karasu!" Kankurou demanded, but Naruto was already following up, not allowing Kankurou any time to recover or regroup. It was over quickly after that. Kankurou, having always relied on his puppets, was not a close combat expert and Naruto wasn't allowing him to get enough space between them for Kankurou to use any of his nin or genjutsu. It only took a handful of moves for Naruto to subdue him with a kunai to his jugular and a knee in his back.

"Will you forfeit?" Naruto asked.

"Not on your life, you Leaf brat," Kankurou spat.

"Well, really, it's on your life," Naruto mused, "but so be it." And he slammed the pommel of his kunai to Kankurou's head, knocking him out. Then he got up and brushed himself off, heading back to the puppet and fingering its forehead in apparent curiosity before Temari jumped down to collect it. Naruto wasn't too bothered by that, as he'd already removed the seal and any remnants of its chakra from the puppet.


Before Naruto could return to his team, Hayate requested all of those who had made it to the final exam to join him on the floor. After Ino literally kicked Shikamaru off the balcony to make him line up with the others, Hayate began.

"The final exam will be a single knock-out tournament with a standard draw," Hayate said. "Since there are nine of you and only eight slots in the draw, we'll have to have one match at the beginning of the final exam to determine who moves forward into that slot. Now you'll all draw numbers from this bag to determine your place in the draw."

They all took a number and Hayate filled out the draw sheet.

"Hmm, interesting," Hayate said, handing the sheet to the Hokage.

"Ah, yes," the old man said, rubbing his chin. "This wil be a very interesting tournament indeed. First round matches will include Aburame Shino v. Uchiha Sasuke; Hyuuga Neji v. Tamachi Kichiro, Sabaku no Temari v. Haruno Sakura, and Sabaku no Gaara v. the winner of the last prelim, which shall be Uzumaki Naruto v. Nara Shikamaru. Best of luck to all of you."

"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered. Naruto only smiled.

"I am going to train Shikamaru to within an inch of his life," Asuma warned Kakashi. "He'll be so prepared for Uzumaki the kid won't stand a chance."

"Hmm?" Kakashi said. "What was that?" Asuma rolled his eyes, and so didn't notice Kakashi's eye sharply taking note of both Shikamaru and his sensei.

"The final exam will be held in one month's time. Your Jounin sensei will have more information for you tomorrow. Until then, you're all dismissed," Hayate said. The genin began to wander off, and the Jounin from foreign powers left with their teams, until only Konoha Jounin and Kakashi's team were left. Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke took up positions near the far wall, close enough to answer if called but far enough away to be considered polite. Then they waited for Kakashi.

"Congratulations, Kakashi," the Hokage said. "For your entire team to make it to the finals is quite a feat. One made even more impressive by the fact that they're all rookies."

"They're quick studies," Kakashi said, trying to turn aside the praise.

"I could say that about many of the genin I've assigned to teams over the years," the Hokage said. "But none of them have ever had their entire team make it to the finals of the Chuunin Exam within six months of their becoming Genin. Even the team I taught took close to 18 months. You should be proud of your accomplishments, and the accomplishments of your genin. I certainly am."

"Your team makes up one-third of the finalists," Hayate said. "The only other team to have more than one finalist is the Sand team."

"Indeed," the Hokage said. "I'm certain that a number of shinobi are reconsidering certain beliefs with this accomplishment, Kakashi."

"Yeah, your brats…" Asuma began.

"Are still here," Anko cut him off. Everyone but Kakashi and the Hokage turned to look at the genin leaning against the far wall and watching them avidly.

"Oi, I dismissed you brats," Hayate called. Then genin looked up at him, then to Kakashi for direction.

"Exactly," Kakashi said, giving his one-eyed grin and turning their attention back to him.

"…What?" Hayate asked.

"You dismissed them, Hayate-kohai, " Kakashi said lazily as he emphasized their respective statuses in the Konoha Shinobi Corps. "But I am their commander. My students have been well versed in the Code of Combat and Konoha's standard operating procedures. They know that when their commander is present, they follow his orders and no one else's. I find it curious that my 'brats' are the only ones who do."

Asuma scowled and Kurenai blushed, but neither commented.

"Well, since you don't need me anymore, I'll just be off," Kakashi said, signaling to his team before anyone could think to protest or make other ridiculous comments.

The Hokage only smiled.