Been such a long time since my last update, I actually had to go back and review all my previous chapters to remember the intricate parts of my story. While I was at it, I edited all 18 of my chapters, an enormous pain in the ass but nowhere near as annoying as all the minor errors I discovered in the process. Still, it's time to get back to work, so here is the long anticipated beginning of the finals!

Chapter 19: The Finals Begin

Gaara vs. Temari

A parade of people flooded the streets of the Hidden Leaf Village as lords and ladies, wealthy patrons and even ministers were admired and honored by the common masses. Of more interest to the Leaf elites were the Kazekage and his escorts. Jōnin and chūnin alike had been made aware of the potential crisis and it showed as squads of ninja stood on guard at every conceivable post. Naruto knew the situation as he walked towards the arena, but he was still shocked by the amount of vigilance his village was exhibiting.

"Didn't think things were this bad…" He muttered as he pushed through excited tourists and squabbling villagers. Within the village existed a massive stadium, reserved for special events and competitions. Naruto had never personally been there himself, but the intimidating structure was etched clearly in his mind.

"A star…I'm a star," Naruto grinned as he passed through the entrance and joined the other genin. Everyone was present, save Sasuke.

"What the hell?" Naruto looked around irritably. "Hey, Shikamaru," he whispered. "Where's Sasuke?"

"How am I supposed to know?" Shikamaru grumbled.

"Shut up and look up," the new proctor snapped. He wore a bandana and had a senbon in his mouth, certainly more lively looking than Hayate had been. "You guys are the attraction, so make our clients feel welcome."

Naruto faced the massive crowd with a grin, excited by their roaring enthusiasm. The stadium quickly grew quiet, however, as Lord Hokage stood up. "Thanks everyone for coming to the Hidden Leaf Chūnin Selection Exam!" A thunderous amount of applause greeted his welcome as he smiled down on the competing genin. "We will now start the main competition between the ten participants who made it through the preliminaries. Please enjoy and watch each fight through to the end!"

With his announcement at an end, the spotlight was once again back on the competing genin. The ref turned to the participants seriously. "All right, guys. This is the final test; the arena might be different but the rules are the same as in the preliminaries: there are none. You fight until one of you is killed, knocked unconscious, or surrenders. I will step in if there is a clear winner, but it is up to you to know your own limits. My name is Genma Shiranui and I'll be your exam proctor for the main competition. Are there any questions?"

"What happens if Sasuke isn't back in time for his match?" Naruto immediately asked.

"Then his opponent will receive a default win and we will move on to the next fight," Genma replied nonchalantly. "Anything else?"

Shikamaru raised his hand. "Yeah, I've got one. The Hokage told us after the preliminaries that we would get a month to train and rest up; what will happen after the first round of the main finals?"

"Good question," Genma temporarily pulled the senbon out of his mouth as he scratched his head. "Some of our wealthiest clients came to watch today's matchups, so this exam will end today. You will not be receiving additional periods to train or prepare; today is do or die."

"I see," Shikamaru replied with a pained expression on his face. "How troublesome…"

"However, there will be a two-hour intermission after each round," Genma continued. "This will give the viewers a chance to stretch their legs, grab some food, purchase souvenirs, and mingle as they see fit. During this time, we will also have our best medics restoring winners for the next round."

"I see. Thanks," Shikamaru nodded as he began formulating his strategy.

Genma pulled out his bracket carefully. "For the first fight we have Gaara and Temari. You two stay here; everyone else go up to the waiting room."

Everyone began heading up to the upper level, but Kankurō hung back. "Temari, you aren't really going to go through with this are you?" He whispered urgently. Gaara had already stepped onto the battlefield, leaving his trembling sister behind. "He'll slaughter you!"

"Kankurō…SHUT UP!" Temari snapped, causing her brother to recoil defensively. "My mind's made up…now leave me alone!" Kankurō looked at Temari hopelessly as he followed the other genin away from the battlefield.

"Sorry, Kankurō," Temari whispered. "I need to do this though…" She faced Gaara as Genma looked at both of them.

"Our first matchup is between Gaara and Temari. Please begin!"

Sand began to slink out of Gaara's gourd as he eyed Temari distastefully. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Temari?" He asked, prompting a shudder from his sister.

"I'm fighting you," Temari tried to compose herself. "So come at me seriously, Gaara."

"Humph. All these years playing peacemaker…" Gaara closed his eyes as his mouth curved upwards into a smile. "Who knew you were in such a rush to die?"

"TEMARI!" Kankurō screamed in alarm. Temari spun around as a wave of sand came crashing down on her. The crowd let out a unified gasp as the kunoichi was almost certainly flattened.

"Did he get her?!" Shikamaru exclaimed from the sidelines. A gust of wind passed over the stadium as Temari hovered in the sky on her fan above her brother, a cold sweat dripping down her face.

Gaara…he really intended to kill me. She stared at her younger brother sadly who returned her gaze impassively.

"How long do you intend to bore me?" Gaara asked her. As she watched the ground, she realized that spikes made of sand were forming upwards beneath her, intending to impale her upon impact.

This is going to be a gamble, she thought carefully. I have to incapacitate Gaara's eyesight so he cannot effectively use his sand for offensive purposes.

"Sandstorm Jutsu!" Temari swung the fan out from beneath her, generating a gust of wind that blasted towards Gaara. His sand barrier automatically protected him as expected, but she was confident that some of the debris slipped through and blinded him until a low chuckle made its way through the sand.

"Who exactly do you think you're trying to blind with sand?"

Impossible! Even with all that wind pressure, he was still able to manipulate the sand that my wind carried?

"Even if it was mixed in with your attack, all sand is controlled by Gaara," Kankurō muttered anxiously. "You have to find a better way to attack him than that, Temari."

Temari gasped as a small platform made of sand formed before Gaara. Stepping onto it, Gaara ascended into the skies directly in front of Temari as she dropped consequently from using a jutsu midair. Catching herself, she glided back into the air away from the dangerous sand spikes below her, though they shot upward in an attempt to skewer her.

"Damn," she swerved to avoid the obstacles, only to see Gaara hovering in front of her, arms crossed as per usual. However, the platform was shape shifting upwards around Gaara. As she looked closely, she realized that three Gaara lookalikes had formed around him, glaring at her just as monstrously as he was.

"Look out!" Kankurō cried from the sidelines as the clones threw their arms out. Temari screamed as shuriken made of sand zipped past her, cutting into her shoulder and cheek in the near-fatal assault. The clones detached themselves from Gaara's platform and threw themselves after her. Temari managed to stay clear of two of them, but the third caught her leg, its heavy weight pulling her down instantly. Temari screamed as she landed, a sand spike impaling her left thigh. Collecting some blood from her leg with her hand, she stared up at her brother as Gaara looked down on her shaking his head.

"Goodbye, Temari."

"Guh, not yet!" Temari splashed her blood against her fan as she swung it towards Gaara. "Summoning Jutsu: Kamatari!"

Gaara's eyes widened as a powerful wind kicked up with a small one-eyed weasel in the middle of it with a large sickle in its hand. It glared daggers as him as its scythe gleamed. "Blade Dance!" Temari cried as the winds blew in Gaara's direction.

It seemed over in an instant. In the blink of an eye, the impossibly fast weasel had slipped through Gaara's defense and sliced him across his midsection. Gaara dropped to the ground, sand catching his body and softening an otherwise painful fall, but it was over. Kamatari had successfully penetrated Gaara's absolute defense. It was finally over. The war had been avoided.

As Temari turned to thank Kamatari, she realized something strange. "What happened to his sickle?" She asked out loud. It looked…broken.

"Right here…hehehehe."

Temari spun around, an overwhelming fear pounding against her chest as she came face-to-face with Gaara, Kamatari's sickle blade lodged in his stomach. Sand crumbled from his body as he pulled it out, but there wasn't a single drop of blood on the weapon.

"N-no way!" She cried out in disbelief as Gaara continued to emit a raspy chuckle.

"I…can't believe it," Kankurō groaned as he collapsed onto the ground. "Who knew Gaara's defenses could even withstand an attack like that?"

"Now then," Gaara's teeth crunched together as he raised his arms, an ocean of sand rising before him. "It's over, Temari!"

Temari squeezed her eyes shut in preparation of certain death. It never came.

"Baki!" Gaara growled infuriated. "What do you think you're doing?!"

Temari's eyes fluttered open and the image of Baki and Genma standing in front of her repelling Gaara's sand was the sight she beheld. Baki looked exceptionally nervous as he glimpsed the Kazekage with his peripheral vision, but that didn't matter now.

"Gaara!" He exclaimed. "It's over; you won." Gaara continued to stare at him as though he was a foreigner attempting to speak in a gibberish language. "This is your sister, Gaara." Baki bit his lip painfully. "Your sister. You won your fight, so leave her alone."

"You have your victory," Genma added. "If you continue to attack, you will be disqualified. This is your only warning."

Gaara eyed the trio distastefully. "Fine." He threw the sickle on the ground as he walked away, it clattering besides Temari. She watched his back for a long moment before she allowed the tears to spill out, biting her lip in an attempt to keep her sobs silent.

"Shhh, Temari…it's over," Baki attempted to comfort her. "It'll be okay…"

"Sensei, I…" Temari choked. "I wanted…I wanted to prevent…"

"I know," Baki soothed her as Genma cast a suspicious glance their way. "You did your best, but this is Gaara we're talking about."

"And the winner is Gaara!" Genma cried out. There was not a large amount of cheering; most were aware that it had been a fight between siblings and the result left a bitter aftertaste in the minds of most surveyors, save the victorious gamblers. Several medics quickly rushed over to take care of Temari's leg; the damage was immense as it was, but disinfecting it was a major priority seeing as it had been penetrated by sand.

Gaara appeared in the waiting area beside the other ninja, most who stared at him nervously. He spared Kankurō a glance before sitting down on the ground. Neither brother spoke to each other; neither had anything to say.

Winner: Gaara

Author's Note: I really would like to apologize for how long it's been since my last update; I had issued myself a personal challenge to finish the first arc of another fanfiction I've got called The Shadow Sleuth Chronicles and I got caught up in it. It turned out amazing; you all should check it out. Another story you should read is called Beyond the Sunset; it is a one-shot collaboration between me and the lovely trio YukiTenVianey Team. It is posted on their profile, so be sure to check it out if you want to see what happens when I team up with fan girls for a story.