The World's Greatest Chunin Exam Team
A/N: The Final chapter! The longest chapter, I was initially expecting this to be about the same length as the first chapter, still, it's finally done!
How will the finals go!? Will Team Terumi somehow manage to overcome the challenge of defeating Genin!? Let's find out!
Without even a day to rest, the successful teams were instructed to meet for the details of the last test the day after the end of the second exam.
And so, in the same auditorium they'd received their initial instructions, Naruto was waiting impatiently with his team. Assumedly the Hokage would be here soon to explain the final exam. "Geez, what's keeping Baa-chan?" he groused, giving a bored look over to his competition.
He was happy to see Konohamaru had somehow managed to pull through, the boy looked pretty beat up (he was fairly sure he hadn't caused all of that) but he'd passed. He was proud of him.
Seeing Mini-Hina standing next to her remaining team mate was a good sight too. He'd been happy receiving his clone's memories of helping her, seeing that his help had assisted her in making it to the final round gave him a nice feeling.
He was a little sad to see there weren't any other Konoha teams around; they were the only two that had made it. With the bandanas replacing the standard forehead protector it had been hard to tell who was from what village, but still, he regretted not letting a few more Konoha Genin get away. He didn't recognise any of the other participants, but it seemed Kumo, Kiri, Iwa and Suna all had at least one team in the finals.
It seemed they'd done an even better job than they'd expected in the second test. From more than a hundred participants, only ten teams remained in the room at the moment. A few of those weren't even full teams, having lost members in either the first or second test. He couldn't be bothered counting but he guessed there was only about 25 people waiting for the third test.
'Still, that's a lot for a final round though. But no-one said anything about preliminaries? Eh, who cares' he decided it didn't make a huge difference to him, if they had to do preliminaries he'd end his fast and head to the finals, if they didn't he'd worry about it later. 'Its kind'a fun like this!' he realised with a slightly guilty grin, he'd never have even considered taking such a laid back approach to the exams last time!
Wondering if this was what it was like being a Jonin-sensei, going from doing A or S class missions to taking a group of Genin through D and C ranks he turned towards the stage, still waiting on Baa-chan, or anyone really, to make an announcement.
Looking at the stage he had to smile. Most of his friends were up there, all waiting far more patiently than him. As proctors they weren't required to attend but evidently most had chosen to, to support him, another good feeling!
Hinata was alternating between looking proudly at her little sister and giving him a bright smile, sometimes with an accompanying light blush. She'd caught him before he came in to personally congratulate him on passing... As if it was ever in doubt! Still he appreciated the gesture so he grinned back at her, catching her eye and enjoying the sight of her blush deepening a little.
He warmed a bit at that, he really did enjoy teasing the poor girl. There really didn't seem to be anyone as unflinchingly honest and shy as Hinata, she was exactly the kind of girl he'd never thought he'd be attracted to and yet the more time he spent with her the more she grew on him. Thinking back he remembered getting to know her.
It had been a little awkward at first, knowing how she felt about him and not knowing her well enough to know if he could reciprocate her feelings...Part of him still struggled with the idea that someone could love him, he hadn't realised how much his upbringing had affected him until he'd had to deal with that feeling, first Hinata, then his Mother.
He quickly cut off that train of thought, he knew he would have to sort his feelings out one day and he would have to find a way to grow past the emotional void his childhood had given him, but now wasn't the time for it.
Turning his gaze he saw Ino preening herself, trying to subtly check her makeup in a hand mirror. He knew first hand she was a highly capable ninja and there was no denying how attractive she was, she probably was the best choice as proctor to put in front of the crowd... But still, he couldn't help but feel she took it a bit too far.
He then saw Sakura was cheekily sticking her tongue out at him. She'd congratulated him earlier but apparently he'd made her work much harder than she'd expected during the second test. So she was making it a point to be slightly mean to him. He felt a bit guilty about that, but only a bit.
Choji and Lee seemed to be the most uncomfortable; he guessed for Choji it was because he could hardly start eating in the middle of the stage, if nothing else than because Ino would flay him alive. Lee as usual just seemed to be bursting with energy as if he was fighting with the urge to do 500 one armed push ups... 'Which he probably is' Naruto conceded.
He couldn't really see from where he was but judging from the hand signals flashing between Kiba and Tenten it seemed Kiba was using this as excuse to try flirt with the kunoichi. Naruto was actually pretty impressed by that, especially considering the signals were designed for little more than basic field communication.
Just as he was trying to puzzle out what Shino was thinking the doors to the stage finally banged open and Tsunade strode in, dressed in her full formal attire. 'Huh, can't remember the last time I saw her wear the hat. I'm gonna wear it every day for sure!'
"Congratulations on making it this far everyone" Tsunade got straight to the point "We're here today to discuss the details of the final test" Apparently she wasn't going to say anything about being almost thirty minutes late Naruto noted. Seeing the bags under her eyes and judging from the fact he hadn't seen Mei-chan last night he could hazard a guess as to why she was late. He sent a silent prayer to Shizune-nee-chan, hoping she'd gotten at least some sleep last night, probably having had to pull the Hokage and Mizukage out of bar after bar.
"Because of the number of teams that have passed, we won't need to hold any preliminary matches. Everyone who made it this far will get to fight in front of the audience, so again, congratulations" she gave them all a wide smile at that.
"Now, the final exam will be a series of single elimination team matches. You will be judged on your performances both individually and with your team. Winning your matches won't necessarily guarantee a promotion to Chunin but it will give you more chances to showcase your skills. "
"Due to the number of teams and the shape of the brackets one team will be given a "Bye" in the second round and another team in the third round. No team will receive a "bye" twice. Which team receives this will be decided on based on your performance in the previous tests. The better you did the more likely you'll get a rest match."
Naruto tried to wrap his head around that, it seemed a bit complicated but he supposed it'd be more obvious when he saw the actual brackets. 'I guess with 10 teams you can't divide them in half for the second round evenly... Eh...' he had no desire to do any more math than that right now.
Tsunade guestured over to Ino who stepped forwards and proudly explained the specifics "The rules for the fights are very simple... There are no rules. You continue until your opponents give up or die. I ask that everyone here tries to avoid unnecessary casualties, but if you don't want to die then give up. If I decide a fight is over either for an individual or a team then it's over. No questions, no arguments" she paused for a moment to sweep a steely look across the room, letting out enough killing intent to show before anything else she was a Jonin with experience in both battle and war "Do not make me or anyone else step in. That is all."
Tsunade took center stage again "The fights will take place one month from now to give you time to recuperate, train or whatever else you need to do to prepare for your matches. Anyone who wishes to bow out can do so now..." she paused for a second to see if there were any takers, no-one seemed interested "No? Okay. In that case come forward and select a number" she pulled out a box with a hole in the top "That will determine the order of the matches."
With only ten people to draw the selections took no time at all. A few minutes later Naruto checked and saw he was matched against a team from Kiri. They seemed surprisingly excited about facing his team so he gave them a quick once over. Not feeling any kind of strong chakra presence from them he shrugged and moved on
If he'd cared enough to listen he would have heard phrases like "We've waited for this moment!" and "Now the whole world will see our true strength" alongside things like "We're no ordinary Genin team after all."
"Do we know anything about them?" Gaara questioned as they walked out of the building
Naruto shrugged "They're from Kiri, I guess we can ask Mei-chan?"
B piped up at that "That'll have to wait a week, she heading off today for a tour of resorts around the Land of Fire. I'm actually going with" he announced with a lecherous grin "Wine, Baths and Women! With all that I'll never tire!"
Gaara snorted and walked off
Naruto was suddenly reminded of something very personal B had blurted out in the middle of the battlefield so long ago... With, that memory in mind he turned to give B a wide grin and bump fists with the man. "With Mei-chan eh? Good luck!" he cheered his friend on, matching B's perverted grin with his own.
'This is completely different from the last exam' Naruto thought with a laugh that afternoon after celebrating the announcement of the finals at Ichiraku's, and having made both Ayame and Teuchi swear not to tell Sakura he'd eaten there for the seventh meal in a row.
'Last time we were all training desperately... Well, me and Sasuke at least' Sakura didn't really have much to do that Month, he wasn't sure what she'd even gotten up to 'Kakashi was off training Sasuke, I was getting thrown down a cliff by Ero-Sennin...' the thought of Jiraya stopped him for a moment, he still missed his master terribly... Although thinking of it did remind him of how he first met Jiraya and that it wasn't originally Jiraya that had been going to train him, in fact Kakashi hadn't even known Jiraya did train him 'Not really too surprising' he thought only slightly bitterly 'he didn't even bother to come watch my match'
No, Kakashi had arranged a different teacher, the closet-Pervert! Thinking of him suddenly reminded him of Konohamaru. 'I should go see what he's up to!' he decided 'Gott'a make sure he's prepared for the exams after all. He looked pretty beat up this morning!'
It turned out to be surprisingly easy to find team Ebisu. He knew where they met for team meetings and it seemed that Ebisu had just dismissed them.
"Hey guys!" he called out running to catch up to them as they began to walk off. He winced at the surprisingly cold look he got from Moegi and Udon, apparently they hadn't appreciated the setback he'd put on them in the second test. Konohamaru seemed even more wound up about it, jumping forwards and sticking a finger in his chest
"Boss! You bastard!" he screamed "Do you know how hard we had to work after you showed up!? It was a nightmare!"
"But..." Naruto interrupted gently, taking the boys hand from his chest "You passed" smiling he turned the accusing finger into a handshake, shocking them all "You guys did really well. I'm really impressed."
That seemed to break the ice, Moegi blushed at his praise, Udon beamed and Konohamaru, in a very Naruto-like gesture looked away while scratching the back of his head "Yeah, well, we're awesome. You know that"
Naruto laughed "So, what's your plan for the finals? You can't just take it easy y'know!"
They spent the new few minutes walking Naruto through Ebisu's surprisingly detailed training regimen. The man seemed a big fan of keeping things organised and tidy, having already mapped out exactly where and when they'd be training. Mostly it was team building or co-ordination exercises, a few missions and a few days of rest.
While it was a relatively intense schedule it wasn't even close to as harsh as one Naruto or Sasuke would have used 'I suppose they can't risk injury before the tournament' Naruto considered, he had a tailed beast to help out there and Sasuke was too proud to even consider such things.
As it was it turned out their training would only start a few days from now, Ebisu was giving them the rest of the week off to recover from the fatigue and injuries of the second test. With no further details until then, the conversation turned to lighter matters. Naruto hung out with them for a while, showing them some of his cooler techniques and listening to their stories about the C-rank missions they'd been on.
Eventually the sun started to set and the group set off back to the main section of the village, splitting up as everyone went their separate ways until finally it was just Naruto walking Konohamaru back to the Sarutobi estate. The two chatted amiably, repairing the damage their egos had done to their friendship over their last two encounters.
It wasn't until they were right outside the gates of the estate that Konohamaru mentioned the upcoming final stage again, turning to Naruto and finally asking what he'd clearly been thinking of for a while "Hey... Boss. I know you're probably gonna be busy over the next month or so, but... uh" Naruto grinned, guessing where this was going "You want me to give you some training outside of your team training?"
"Yeah!" Konohamaru was suddenly bursting with energy at that "You gott'a make it up to me after almost causing me to fail the last test!"
He laughed; it honestly really was a nice feeling, almost nostalgic in a way, bringing back half forgotten memories of the discussion he'd had with Shikamaru after he'd lost Ero-Sennin. "Sure! I should be around most of the time... I'll teach you some things!"
They both grinned at that, it was nice to have things back to how they used to be. Konohamaru hadn't had many chances to properly train under Naruto but they'd always been fun, doing it seriously over a whole month sounded great! Even as exhausted as he still was he was sorely tempted to demand to begin right then.
Luckily pragmatism won out when his Mum saw him standing outside and called him in for dinner. So he simply gave Naruto a copy of the schedule Ebisu-sensei had given him and waved goodbye.
Naruto simply pocketed the schedule and walked off happily 'Yup. Definitely nothing like the last exams! I guess it's my turn to be Ero-Sennin this time!' he thought about that for a moment 'Uh... Hmm maybe not.' He didn't have any desire to spend the month peeping on women and writing porn, plus Toad Sage or not, he didn't have permission to let other people sign the Toad Contract yet... 'Well, either way, it'll be fun! Good practice for if I ever wanna be a Jonin-Sensei too!'
He wasn't the underdog this time, he wasn't facing some clan elite with an extra year of experience on him and while he never slacked off in his personal training, it was just a completely different experience going in knowing there wasn't anyone in the exam that gave you even a moments pause.
The next few days fell into a comfortable rhythm, Naruto still didn't have any missions or much to do during the day so he spent most of his free time either hanging out with his friends or training with Gaara. Whenever Konohamaru had energy left after team training or was given a day off Naruto made an effort to train with him.
Naruto quickly found he had no idea how to teach except practical lessons so most of their time was spent sparring. He had made it his mission to help Konohamaru think up plans or tactics on the fly in much the same way that had made Naruto famous as being unpredictable. It came natural to him and he wasn't sure if it could be learned but at the very least it'd help the boy get a grasp of instinctive strategies.
Whenever they took a break from that or when Konohamaru was too beat up from team training for sparring to be a good idea they worked on the Odama Rasengan. Konohamaru's control as much better than Naruto's had been at the same age, it was almost as good as Naruto's was now, unfortunately he simply didn't have the same level of raw chakra reserves. To a normal person a Rasengan alone was a costly technique, practicing the steps towards an Odama Rasengan turned out to be great training for increasing his chakra reserves, even if it was unlikely he'd master it in time for the exams.
They'd discovered early on that at the moment anything more was out of his league, while his control was good enough anything more advanced would need more Kage Bunshin and the drain was simply too much. One attempt at a double Rasengan had quickly proven that... The resulting chakra exhaustion scare, which had caused a supremely pissed Sakura to drag him into Tsunade's office so they could both yell at him for being so irresponsible, was enough for a lifetime.
'Yeah...' Naruto shuddered a bit at that memory 'Sakura-chan can be very scary sometimes'.
It had been a little over a week since the second test, so having become pretty comfortable in his new routine, Naruto was surprised when he was disturbed from his lack of progress with the latest seal he was working on by a knock at his door.
Seal masters being as obscenely rare as they were (rare enough to destroy a nation over) sealing was something he had no real formal training in. He'd taken it up as a bit of a hobby and found it came quite naturally to him. Unfortunately, it was still an incredibly convoluted and complex art, something which caused him no end of frustration when his improvised (or in his words, "Naruto Uzumaki method") seals tended to have wildly varying effects.
Taking a moment to draw any chakra out of his failed creation, he stood up and walked to the entrance, wondering who would be visiting him. Konohamaru was training today and he didn't remember having any plans with anyone else...
"Oh hey, Hinata-chan! Come in!" he stepped away from the door, surprised to see her coming to his apartment by herself but glad to have a reason to stop giving himself a headache.
"Good morning Naruto-kun, thank you" she gave him a warm smile then stopped for a moment and surprised him again, this time by giving a deep bow before stepping past him and walking into his house.
This was definitely odd, Hinata was always very polite but... This was new. "So, what's up Hinata-chan? How can I help?"
Hinata for her part was forcing herself to remain composed, fighting from letting her mind go wild with the thought of Naruto-kun just inviting her into his house, being alone in his house... Remembering the last time she'd been alone here with him it took a terrible amount of effort not to go bright red with delirious joy, 'No, no, this is too important' she chastised herself and forced her blush under control
"Actually... I, I came to thank you Naruto-kun" she quickly continued before he could say anything, lest she risk losing her composure "For what you did for Hanabi-chan"
"Ah" he hadn't expected that! He actually hadn't even thought much about his encounter with Mini-Hina since then. Still, it was nice of Hinata-chan to come all the way over here to thank him! He suddenly felt incredibly warm... Not knowing how to respond he just laughed with embarrassment.
Taking that as her cue Hinata continued "I didn't realise... I didn't even know what had happened... Or I would have come over sooner! Father was out of the village until yesterday and Hanabi-chan didn't want to tell anyone any details until he got back"
"So, last night she told us the whole story... How she was desperately avoiding a number of pursuit teams... How her team escaped a number of times. That two teams ended up working together against her, how she got trapped... Her team mate injured... That terrible man, with the sword..." she stopped for a second, regaining her composure "...You saved my sisters life Naruto-kun."
Steeling her courage at that moment she looked up at him, her face a mixture of happiness at everything being okay and despair at what could have been, she took his hand squeezing it gently "You saved her, just like you always do. I... I can never thank you enough. Thank you... Thank you" she sniffed, losing control slightly "I just... I became a proctor, if anything had happened... Just... Thank you"
She lost her control at that, turning away embarrassed and releasing his hand as she wiped away the tears spilling down her face. She didn't want him to see that, she'd cried enough in front of him already.
Naruto was completely stunned, he hadn't even really considered it, jumping in had just been something he'd done on instinct. It hadn't really even occurred to him that he'd saved her life until right now.
"Hey... Hinata-chan" he said softly, reaching over and stroking her shoulder gently "...Don't worry about it, of course I'd protect anyone precious to you..."
She seemed to cheer up at that, turning back to face him "Once she started Hanabi-chan couldn't stop talking about you, she was very thankful. She really likes you, she wants to thank you properly... Father too!" she smiled at that thought "He was shocked and grateful... He asked me to invite you over... As the guest of honour, for a formal dinner, as thanks"
She was obviously very happy he had her whole families' approval "Ah... I, uh, I said we should wait till after the finals though... So we could celebrate your victory as well..." she blushed at that suddenly looking shy again "If... uh, that's okay with you?"
"Sure! Yeah! Sounds like fun!" he laughed a bit at the image, it was hard to imagine a place he'd fit in less than a formal dinner at the notoriously stoic Hyuuga family. Still, Hinata-chan and Mini-Hina would be there and he knew if the situation was reversed he'd want to properly thank someone that'd protected one of his precious people.
"But it won't just be celebrating my victory!"
"Nope! It'll be Mini-Hina's victory too! That's your job until the exams isn't it? Make sure she becomes a Chunin!"
"Of course!" she beamed at that, it was true, she'd been training with Hanabi a lot over the last week. Now that her father was back he would take over the Jyuuken instruction, but she would help with everything else! Her precious little sister wouldn't be put in such a situation again, not if she could help it.
With that they spent the rest of the morning just chatting about light-hearted matters until Hinata insisted on taking Naruto out to lunch.
Leaving the house while promising Naruto for the tenth time that she definitely wouldn't let Sakura find out they left to head for Ichiraku's.
It struck Hinata once again just how happy she was with her life right now. Ever since she'd learned he lived by himself, she'd had a hundred different fantasies of being alone with Naruto in his apartment. She'd imagined everything from cooking dinner for him, to lounging around with him, to lurid fantasies she wouldn't even admit to Kurenai-sensei... Tearfully thanking him for saving the life of her sister before taking him out for Ramen had never been one of those fantasies. And yet, while walking beside the man she loved, on what was probably, definitely, most likely, for all intents and purposes, a date, she couldn't imagine being happier.
Naruto, touched by the whole experience, was simply enjoying the sense of warmth that Hinata often seemed to send through him. 'The feeling of being loved? Being wanted?' he thought for a second, relishing the idea.
It wasn't until later the next week that Mei finally returned to the village.
Tsunade looked up as the woman in question walked into her office, looking utterly relaxed and far more tan than she'd last seen her. Utterly failing to restrain a surge of jealousy at the idea of a fellow Kage getting to spend a week travelling the land of fire, visiting resorts, getting drunk and lazing around Tsunade knew she still had to be polite.
"Welcome back Mizukage-sama. I trust your travels went well?"
"Oh it was wonderful Hokage-sama. It has been far too long since I've been anywhere in the Land of Fire... That resort you recommended near the Kagata mountains especially..."
Tsunade's eye twitched at that as she began tuning Mei out, she had mentioned that resort but she'd never actually been able to stay there. It was the only place in the Land of Fire that would dare turn down her, the last Senju, for something as simple as rumours of bad credit! She'd been so mad at the time Shizune had to drag her away before she'd destroyed the entire place.
Now as Hokage her credit problems were gone, her reputation was beyond question, she would be an honoured guest... If only she could get a single moment of spare time! Crying inside she could just imagine the reactions she'd get from Shizune or the village leaders at even mentioning taking a week off to booze and gamble.
'That damn brat can't take this job soon enough' she thought, only slightly serious. She honestly loved being the leader and protector of the village. She took great pride striving for the ideals of said brat along with those of the memories of her lover and brother... 'Just, all the damn tedious paperwork and meetings'.
Speaking of Naruto, Tsunade was already in discussion with a number of well regarded photographers, they would be well prepared when he was finally ready to take the role... The moment it sunk in that he'd be spending his life stuck behind a desk instead of out on the field, that almost all of his very long day would be nothing but paperwork and meetings... That moment, that look on his face, she planned to immortalize it forever.
Hearing the sound of the door opening she shook herself from that very familiar daydream. Looking up, glad for the relief both from the current forms and from the Mizukage's continuing story about her wonderful holiday, she saw Shizune escorting in a very familiar face...
"Ah, Ueshima-san. What a pleasure to see you!"
This was definitely a good sign! Her day was getting brighter finally! This was her reward for spending all afternoon diligently doing paperwork! The large smile on her face was entirely unforced. Ueshima Hideyoshi, was one of her absolute favourite clients. He was a very rich businessman dealing in (mostly legal) trades throughout the Elemental Nations. He took great pride in his business and staked a large amount on his reputation.
In simple terms it meant he refused to let his trade routes be disrupted and was prepared to pay for the best to achieve that. For her, this meant that a mission that could probably be given as a B-rank to a Chunin or small Jonin team was instead listed A-rank and typically given to one of the more famous ninja, usually as a reward for good service.
He wanted to pay for the extra security and enjoyed the image of the famous ninja protecting his business, her ninja liked easy missions with high pay, she liked safe ninja and lucrative missions, it was hard to imagine a better client.
Standing she addressed the man "This is actually marvellous timing Ueshima-san, with the Chunin exams going on at the moment most of our strongest ninja are available on short notice. I believe even Sharingan-Kakashi and Might Gai are free currently or perhaps Yamato, you may have heard he has the extremely rare Mokuton bloodline..."
The idea of letting a client choose their team was ridiculous and should never be allowed. It put ninja in danger and misallocated resources. Team allocation was the Hokage's job and no-one else's... On the other hand, if said client was willing to pay to have a few groups of Yakuza wiped out as an A-Rank mission with a 20% bonus for a fast, effective job... Well, every rule had exceptions!
"Ah, if you'll excuse us, Mizukage-sama" she liked the woman, sure. But it was difficult even looking at how tan she was when poor Tsunade had to spend all day inside.
Unfortunately, just as Mei was standing to make her exit the client in question interrupted "Ah... Actually Hokage-sama... My apologies... I was sent here because I was told this was where I could find the esteemed Mizukage-sama" he turned and favoured her with a respectful bow.
Tsunade's jaw dropped, he continued "Konoha has always provided me with excellent service of course Hokage-sama but..." he turned back to Mei "I've got quite a large problem this time you see... It seems, a number of Yakuza groups have banded together and are causing problems all over the Shirohima region... And well, I've heard such amazing things about Team Terumi... I was hoping to recruit them for an S-rank mission"
Mei looked absolutely predatory, "Why of course sir! They are completely free at the moment. Why don't we move this discussion to my hotel?"
Tsunade could only watch, stunned, as the man who was one of the single most lucrative clients for the village walked away. Mei turning for just a moment to flash a beaming smile...
"Is it really true? The Kazekage, Killer B... even Uzumaki Naruto, they all answer to you? Despite their villages?"
"Oh, completely. That is to say, without me, the team wouldn't exist. You know it was Naruto himself who-"
Mei's voice drifted away into the distance as Tsunade sank back to her mounds of paperwork wondering exactly what the political ramifications for having the Mizukage assassinated would be...
The next few weeks passed quickly for Naruto. Team Terumi ended up being sent on several missions, mostly bodyguard or similar work. Businessmen or political figures took full advantage of the opportunity to have four of the most famous ninja in the world, two of them current ruling Kage's associated with their interests.
It was pretty light work for the most part, Mei as the Jonin-sensei treated it as an extended vacation, typically leaving the team to their own devices as she wandered around the various tourist spots or spent the day drinking, or lazing about... Pretty much how he always envisioned Baa-chan if she were a Jonin-sensei, except without the gambling.
Still, Mei-chan was an amazing negotiator and the team's prestige came at a premium. The pay was very good, typically more than he'd usually get even from an S-Rank mission. So Naruto didn't complain... Well, not too often at least.
They'd even done a few missions on behalf of Konoha, Tsunade having argued angrily that having a foreign Kage running missions out of her village broke several treaties and that she should have full rights to assign missions to Team Terumi as well. The pay wasn't quite as good, Naruto was amused to realise Baa-chan wasn't as good a negotiator, but it did ease his guilt about doing missions on behalf of a foreign village.
When he was in Konoha he continued training Konohamaru as much as he was able. While the boy hadn't made much progress on the Odama Rasengan the practice had strengthened his standard Rasengan visibly. More importantly to Naruto's mind, Konohamaru had been a quick study in his school of unexpected tactics and was now impressing Naruto with his ability to quickly improvise on the fly.
Then, before they even noticed it, the month was over and the final exams were the next day. Realising they hadn't even discussed the upcoming matches, Team Terumi was all gathered in Naruto's apartment for a last minute strategy session.
"Okay, so... First up, we're fighting a team from, uh" Naruto thought hard, while ransacking his place to find where he'd put the schedule, he really should know this, "...Iwa right?"
"Kiri" Gaara corrected, glad he'd taken a moment to look at the schedule before he came over
"Oh right, Kiri. Yeah! We were gonna ask Mei-chan about them! Did we get any info?" finally locating it he triumphantly held up his schedule, why had he put it under his lamp?
That had originally been B's job "She said she didn't want to give anything out on a team from her home. We've got as much information as an empty tome."
"Yeah, not surprising" Naruto shrugged then took a second to flatten his schedule and open it up on the kitchen table, "Okay, so the matches are..."
Team Takara (Kumo) vs Team Kahae (Kumo)
Team Mimura (Konoha) vs Team Ebisu (Konoha)
Team Terumi (Shinobi) vs Team Ishinomori (Kiri)
Team Oyama (Iwa) vs Team Isago (Suna)
Team Tatenaka (Iwa) vs Team Hohiki (Kumo)
"Hmm, only two Konoha teams, that's a bit of a shame" Naruto thinking again he should have left some to pass.
"Only one from Suna" Gaara mentioned thinking along the same lines.
"Mei was pissed only one from Kiri made it here, three from Kumo though oooh yeaaaaah!"
Naruto tuned out B's victory rap looking at the names of the Konoha teams in particular "Huh, team Mimura... Mimura-sensei... That's familiar" suddenly he remembered he already knew the only other Konoha team to pass "Oh wow! So Konohamaru's fighting Mini-Hina in the first round!? He should have said something!" it was almost a parallel to Naruto's own experience, fighting Neji in the first round.
He was actually quite shocked, a month had passed and he was only finding this out now! While technically he didn't know or have any anti-Hyuuga strategies but he could'a come up with some! 'Why didn't anyone tell me!?' The most likely reason came to him quickly 'Heh... They probably thought I already knew didn't they?'
"Almost certainly" Kurama chipped in "what kind of ninja doesn't even look at the tournament schedule until the night before?" He didn't care either way but it was always funny to get Naruto riled up.
Neither knowing nor caring who this "Mini-Hina" or "Konohamaru" were and as the only other person who could hear the discussion between Naruto and Kurama, B decided to head off the argument before Gyuki could start a similar complaint to him "Okay, okay, let's not get riled up. We gott'a focus on information that'll help us lift the cup!"
"Right, right!" Naruto agreed, focussing on the schedule again "okay, so we don't know anything about the first match. That's fine, who do we fight next, let's see. Hmm, we win and then we're up against either a team from Iwa, or a team from Suna? Gaara, any information we can use for that fight?"
Gaara considered the schedule again "I believe you're reading it wrong Naruto. Assuming no ties, there will be five teams in the second round. As they mentioned in the introduction the team with the best performance in the first two tests will receive a "bye" for that round. Almost certainly that will be us"
"Huh" Naruto nodded, remembering the explanation he'd considered overly complex. "Yeah that makes sense. It's hard to imagine anyone else having more points than us"
Gaara traced his finger along the brackets "With this assumption it seems our next fight will be against either the stronger Konoha team or the stronger Kumo team"
"It'll be against the Konoha team for sure!" There was no way either Mini-Hina or Konohamaru would lose, well, except too each other he conceded "probably Konohamaru's team" they had all three members after all "They're no problem" he felt a bit mean saying that, but it was clearly true.
Gaara nodded, about what he'd expected "And if not, then either this "Team Takara" or "Team Kahae"... Do you know anything about any of them B?"
B laughed looking slightly guilty "I don't know any of the teams in the tournament! They're all rookies, why care? It's not like we need to be going spare!"
"So..." Naruto looked around
"We have no information" Gaara finished
'Man... And it's the night before the tournament. We're really unprepared...' Naruto's thoughts were echoed among the three of them. They really had taken this whole thing very casualy.
"Ah whatever, who cares!" luckily what he didn't have in preparedness he made up for in enthusiasm "Researching a bunch of rookies would have been a waste of time anyway! We'll beat them all easy! More importantly!" he paused, leaning in for dramatic effect "We need to talk about what we're going to do to ensure we're promoted!"
This was new, Gaara looked puzzled, B asked the obvious "Huh?"
"Well, we're here to discuss strategy right! And this is the most important strategy, you guys know how the test works, it's not about winning it's about acting like a Squad Leader."
"That's true" Gaara conceded, wondering where Naruto was going with this.
"This should be easy for you Gaara, you've got practice by being the Kazekage!"
Gaara blinked, not quite sure how to take that... Being Kazekage was good practice for being Chunin? He was sure there was something backwards about that but Naruto argued like he fought, wildly and completely improvised. He decided to just go with it.
B, having been a squad leader countless times over multiple years, preferred a much more straight forward solution "Why don't we just crush everyone? Show we're the best and we don't have to worry about the rest!"
Naruto emphatically shut that down "Because it's not based on just strength! Last time I went through the exams I beat up a really strong guy and I didn't get promoted. Now, we're gonna be way stronger than anyone else! If we just blow everyone away they won't be able to see if we're good at, y'know, being a Squad Leader"
He continued "I mean, do you wanna go through all this trouble and then be told they didn't see what they needed in a Squad Leader because every fight was over in two seconds?"
"No way!" B may not care about being a Chunin, but that was because he already considered himself far above the rank! He definitely didn't want to be told he wasn't good enough to be a Chunin!
"So you're worried that we'll be too strong for our opponents? We won't be able to show off our skills properly?"
"So we just act really weak then? Act like we're struggling against a team of Genin?" B asked definitely not liking that idea.
"No" to his relief Gaara dismissed that idea immediately "Acting weak doesn't make us look stronger when we win. If anything it just makes our opponents look better and makes us look worse. Everyone knows us; if we struggle against Genin it will look ridiculous."
Gaara thought for a moment "Simply toying with them or drawing out the fights would have the same result. Worse, there's a good chance any opponents who face us will simply forfeit, giving us no opportunity to display any skills whatsoever." He looked troubled at that, unsure how to overcome such an odd hurdle, he'd never even considered something like this.
"Exactly!" they both turned to Naruto at that, he had a very cunning smirk on his face, he'd clearly given this some thought "Luckily... I've got something in mind"
B laughed, Gaara settled for a grin, Uzumaki Naruto had a plan to ensure they looked like Squad Leaders in the finals. No doubt this would be...Unexpected.
And so, they gathered around and went over the details of Naruto's plans.
Having done nothing to prepare for the fights, with no information or knowledge about their opponents they spent their final night before the tournament studying not who their opponents were, or what tactics to use, but instead how to ensure they looked the part when they did win.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, in a rented Hotel room three figures were sitting around a small coffee table, discussing their own plans for the next day.
The first spoke "And you've finished your updated intelligence on Uzumaki?" his voice was grim, full of dark purpose.
"Yes" the second answered, pushing a stack of papers across the table "He was hard to track down, having spent so much time abroad this month, but I got some useful information from rumours as well. That should be a comprehensive dossier of every one of Uzumaki's abilities" he scoffed and continued "And their countermeasures... A complete guide to Kill Uzumaki Naruto!"
"Good, very good" the first voice spoke again, his voice twinged with excitement, he turned to his other companion "And the other two? His, so called team?"
A short feminine laugh cut across the room "They won't be a problem" she assured "My abilities will make short work of them" she slid her own papers across the table none the less.
"We've had a very busy month" the first voice spoke again "But it will all be worth it! Uzumaki won't know what hit him tomorrow facing us in his first match!"
And so, huddled in the dark, with a genjutsu set up to prevent anyone listen in, the three planned their strategy deep into the night.
The next morning, standing in the middle of the Konoha arena Naruto was marvelling at how much larger the new one was, the old one having been destroyed by Pain.
'The crowd's massive too... They must have really gone all out this time'
The seating seemed to be roughly divided up by region, the separate villages all posted to different sections of the stadium seating. Locating where the Konoha banners he was able to spot a number of familiar faces waving at him, he made an effort to smile and wave at his friends.
"It seems all the Kage's made it" he heard Gaara beside him, surprised he swung his attention up to the skybox.
Sure enough, Tsunade was waving down at the assembled Genin from the center seat, once again wearing her full Hokage robes. A was sitting next to her, he appeared to find the whole spectacle amusing, laughing at the idea of his brother competing in the exams, even Onoki had made it, Naruto was impressed.
'He made it all the way here despite being even more of an old Geezer than jichan was, geez'
Standing here, looking up at the crowd, just like last time it was hard not to think of the beloved Sandaime. Still, now wasn't the time for that, so he instead looked over to where Mei-chan was sitting, trying to figure out who she was talking to 'Wait... Is that...'
Sure enough, next to the Mizukage, glaring down at them and clearly uncomfortable in the robes of office was Acting Kazekage Kankuro. 'So Gaara really did lump it all on him! Oh man!' it was an immense struggle not to laugh aloud at that. Telling himself that decorum was an important part of being a Squad Leader Naruto persevered.
With the excitement building, just as he was getting ansty to begin this whole thing, Ino finally stepped forwards to address the crowd. She'd certainly gone to great lengths to play up her part in this, ditching her standard Jonin uniform and instead donning a deep purple dress. Tight enough that it accentuated her generous assets yet long enough not to be absolutely scandalous, a fact that was undermined slightly by the large slit up the sides showcasing her long toned legs. Honestly it was hard to take your eyes off her which Naruto assumed meant the dress was doing exactly what she intended it to do.
Enjoying a few moments of attention and even a few shouted marriage proposals, Ino quickly called the audience to silence and began the introduction to the Chunin Exam Finals. She went over the rules one last time, once again leaking out enough killing intent for all competitors to take her seriously, before calling the first two teams to take their positions and dismissing the rest.
"Ah...But...Shouldn't you be with your team Naruto-kun?"
"Nah!" he waved a hand dismissing that worry "I said I'd watch the matches with you didn't I? Mini-Hina's match is coming up next!"
She definitely did remember him saying it but after having found out he was competing in the exams she hadn't actually expected him to ditch his team and track her down in the stands... 'Still' she thought 'he doesn't seem worried and his match isn't for a while... It's not bad to just enjoy this'
Deciding not to think too much about it, Hinata just focussed on enjoying sitting next to Naruto while they watched the first two teams duke it out. 'It's a nice feeling' she thought happily 'spending time like this with the person you love... just like a date!' She made an attempt to focus on the match but it bored her in comparison, the skill level was pretty low all around and she didn't really care about either of the two teams... While she didn't exactly hold a grudge, it was hard want to cheer for anyone from Kumo. 'It's difficult to care about this kind of match when sitting next to Naruto-kun' she realised.
So she contented herself in tuning the match out and sneaking glances at Naruto... Who was now happily helping himself to the snacks she'd made for herself. "Wow!" he called out after demolishing half a tray of rice balls and reaching for a container of takoyaki "These are really good... Yeah! You're a great cook!"
After that remark she barely noticed the rest of the march, with all the blood in her body having gone to her face she spent the rest of the time in a happy daze offering her the rest of the food she'd made. 'Cooking... Cooking for Naruto-kun...' thoughts of meals or picnics or... Cooking for him in his... In their home... Her mind threatened to shut itself off in at that last thought.
Needless to say, despite the quality of the participants, Hinata thoroughly enjoyed herself during the first match.
"Oh! Here they come!"
His words snapping her back to the present Hinata quickly stopped wishing she had more food to feed Naruto instantly put all her attention into hoping for the wellbeing of her younger sister.
The second Ino announced the start of the match Hanabi's team burst forth with unexpected ferocity! Clearly being a man down they were hoping to take the initiative from the start and finish the match as soon as possible.
"Woah! She's really fired up!" Naruto cheered as Konohamaru desperately replaced himself to avoid being taken down instantly with pinpoint tenketsu strikes.
The match flowed back and forth like that over the next ten minutes, Hanabi bravely charging forward with all her strength while her team mate attempted to assist with long range ninjutsu and a handful of basic genjutsu.
If they had retained their third member the match may have easily swung in their favour but, as it was the extra experience and teamwork on the side of Team Ebisu left them mostly in control of the match. Konohamaru and Moegi were trading off with close quarters taijutsu and ninjutsu as much as was safe against the Jyuuken while Udon focused on countering any genjutsu and using thrown weapons to keep Hanabi from advancing safely.
"She's working so hard" Hinata finally spoke up, having simply been gripping the edge of her seat with all her might till now, "she's doing so well"
"Yeah!" Naruto enthusiastically agreed "Konohamaru's like a little brother to me, it's like our little siblings fighting out there" he grinned, excited "C'mon! We gott'a cheer them on!"
So saying he stood up and walked to the edge of the balcony, grabbing the railing and leaning over it, screaming with all his might "YEAH! C'MON! KONOHAMARU! GO! GO!"
Hinata looked on guiltily, she'd never even considered doing such a thing! It just... It just wasn't done! A main-house Hyuuga leaning over the railing screaming at the fighters like some kind of thug... Her father would have a heart attack! And yet... The desire to do exactly that, to join Naruto cheering on her sibling against his, it was so strong she was biting her lip to control herself.
And then suddenly she was back years ago... She was back in her old self, facing the cruel words of her beloved cousin. About to give up, knowing exactly how the fight would play out, knowing it would be an embarrassing and incredibly painful loss. She was back feeling the strength, the power, the sheer belief flowing through her from Naruto's unbending encouragement. His belief in her even when she had no belief in herself, even when she was just a bloody mess on the floor, giving her the strength to stand even as her body shut down.
And before she even knew it, she was beside Naruto. She was leaning over the railing, gripping it with all her might and screaming at her precious little sister to fight! To stand strong! To win!
Hanabi had been fighting a desperate losing battle for almost fifteen minutes; she was exhausted, even through the adrenaline she could feel her body slowing down.
Her training over the past month had focussed solely on making up for the missing teammate, emphasising quick charging, closing the gap in the blink of an eye and shutting down her opponents instantly. Her sensei and her father had both stressed over and over again that their best chance would be in taking down at least one opponent the second the match began.
She'd aimed to take down the opposing team's leader right from the gate, as it was now she wondered if that was a critical mistake. Her research over the break pegged him as both the lynchpin of the team and the best fighter, cutting off his tenketsu would have crippled them... If only he wasn't so damn slippery!
Even with Yosuke backing her up she couldn't manage to land a single solid blow on the boy, a forward charge would end with her in an Ash Cloud, drawing him out by attacking that damn kunoichi in his team and she'd find herself fending off a Kage Bunshin before having to dodge a barrage of thrown weapons. Even attempting to get to the boy at the back of their formation had been futile, his ranged techniques and his team's support easily cutting off her advances.
She was a frontline fighter, experienced in the strongest taijutsu in Konoha, none of his team had landed a single solid hit on her, that was to be expected... She would be shamed by anything less... But being led around like this, she knew she was about to lose.
"HANABI-CHAN! FIGHT! YOU CAN DO IT!"
'Huh... Hinata-nee-chan?' The words caught her completely by surprise, being so close to the edge of exhaustion she could barely register what her sister was saying. All she knew, all she cared about was her silly, shy, caring sister was calling out to her... Screaming for her, yelling over the rest of the crowd.
And, just like that Hanabi felt her exhaustion ease just slightly, her strength return just a tiny amount, and just like that Hanabi saw the opening she'd wanted for so long. Yosuke had just managed to trap that kunoichi in his genjutsu, she recognised it, the strongest one he knew, she'd be out for the rest of the match so long as no-one broke her out of it.
Their leader, Konohamaru she thought it was, was about to take down Yosuke, there was nothing she could do for him, he was too far away and completely exposed. However in doing so Konohamaru had overextended himself, he'd placed himself three steps too far forwards... That was the opening she'd fought so long to see, with the strength her sister had given her charged.
No thoughts needed Hanabi acted completely on instinct, rushing forward as her team mate dropped she kicked Konohamaru in the side, sending him crashing away and unable to do anything but watch as she finally reached their final team-mate, right when he was about to break the genjutsu on the kunoichi.
They had thought her exhausted, her strength gone... They hadn't been expecting such sudden speed, the second wind her sister had brought her. The final member, that glasses wearing boy, was caught flat footed and dropped in a moment, six pinpoint tenketsu strikes to his chest and neck ensuring he wouldn't interfere further.
In less than a moment the match had completely turned around. From 3v3 it was now 1v1, with two of Konoha's most famous clans facing off. The crowd roared their approval, Hinata screamed even louder.
Turning and letting out a heavy breath, forcing her legs not to shake with exhaustion, Hanabi faced down her final opponent. She was standing between him and the kunoichi, he couldn't get to her to break the genjutsu, not without getting through her. She saw he looked exhausted too, she doubted the Kage Bunshin or Ash Clouds he'd been summoning had come cheap.
Taking a moment to relax, strengthened again by the jubilant cheers she could scarcely believe were coming from her sister she readied her stance. This would be the final moment. 'And... ' She thought 'I've got the advantage. I'm directly in front of his team-mate, he can't risk using thrown weapons or ranged techniques'. He would have to come directly at her, her Byakugan would see any movement and her Jyuuken would ensure her victory. This would be her win.
That was why Hanabi was completely surprised when, once again she was completely unable to predict Konohamaru. Rather than coming straight at her, or even trying to flank her he simply stared her down, took a deep breath and blew out one more Ash Cloud, this one directly ahead of himself, before stepping inside it, hiding from her sight. Saturated in chakra as it was even her eyes couldn't penetrate it, she could see slivers of movement but nothing else.
'But... He can't see anything from in there either... He's preparing something?' having no ranged techniques and no ranged weapons left she had no choice but to wait. Acting on instinct driven into her by hundreds of hours of training her body automatically shifted into Jyuuken 3rd Standard Stance, 1st Variation... A strong defensive counter stance. He was planning something, he would come at her, probably with a Kage Bunshin, she would see it, counter it and win.
Unfortunately for Hanabi, nothing could have prepared for her for the boy and a Kage Bunshin suddenly leaping out of the Ash Cloud coming at her not with the taijutsu she'd expected but instead holding a spinning orb made of pure chakra, as if he held maelstrom in his hand...
'That's the 4ths... That's Naruto's...'
She didn't need the piercing yell of "RASENGAN!" that filled the stadium to recognize the danger coming at her.
Again acting on instinct built on years of training, her endless instruction, Hanabi didn't think, she simply reacted. Shifting her feet, sucking in her breath, she drew the last of her reserves, pushed her chakra out and let loose her own shout to match his "KAITEN!"
Neji was without question an absolute prodigy, the kind you would be lucky to see once every handful of generations. To learn the Kaiten at his age alone was amazing, to learn it without being trained in it was unprecedented. In the entire history of the Hyuuga there was perhaps a handful with comparable talent.
Hanabi was brillaint. She took to the Jyuuken well, she was incredibly advanced for her years, she worked hard and struggled through any pain or exhaustion to meet the demands of her father, of her clan. Unlike Neji, Hanabi had been shown the secret Jyuuken steps taught only in the main-house, she had been trained in the first stages of the 64-palms and taught the basics of the Kaiten.
For Neji to complete the Kaiten at 14 was unprecedented. For Hanabi, even with training, to do it younger was incredible.
Unfortunately Neji was a prodigy. Hanabi was merely brilliant.
Neji's Kaiten was complete. A perfect Kaiten.
Hanabi's was not.
What she managed was without question an impressive feat, to come as close to a perfect Kaiten at her age and experience was incredible. Yet in that moment all that mattered was that Hanabi's Kaiten was flawed, the chakra distribution not even, the rotation not fast enough, the movement of her hands off by a few degrees, her feet placed an inch too far apart...
Hitting her Kaiten the Rasengan was slowed, dissipated and even partially misdirected... However it wasn't stopped.
After putting up an incredible showing, Hanabi finished her first Chunin Exam flying across the arena, unconscious the moment her head slammed into the dirt.
"Woa..." Naruto was beyond impressed, cheering out of his mind as he watched Konohamaru tiredly waving his victory to the crowds.
The boy had improved beyond words! That fight had been amazing to watch! The plans he'd been using, the misdirections, the final act of bringing out your trump card to win the match in an amazing display... He grinned, it was like watching himself out there!
"Wow! Mini-Hina di-Huh?" he had turned to talk to Hinata-chan and was surprised to see he was talking to thin air and a few falling leaves... 'Oh...' he smiled, 'of course', turning to the Arena floor he saw Hinata coming out of her shunshin, gently cradling her sister's head as she yelled for the medics to hurry up.
It was hard to tell from this distance but she looked to be okay at least, Hinata looked worried but not distraught. Mini-Hina seemed to be stirring already so he doubted she'd have anything except some bruises and a sore body... 'Still, to think... The Rasengan against the Kaiten. What a fight...'
Liking both Hyuuga's and wanting to make sure Mini-Hina was okay he was sorely tempted to go check on her, but he restrained himself, it wasn't really his place and he'd just get in the way. He'd leave her to her sister and the medics 'especially since I was just cheering against her' he thought with a touch of guilt 'I'll go see her later... For now...' he grinned
Leaping over the railing down to the arena floor Naruto smiled at the sudden roar from the crowd 'Looks like we're the most anticipated team this time!'. Stopping for a moment to congratulate Konohamaru and his team before they were ushered back to the waiting area by a visibly sobbing Ebisu (he didn't think he'd ever seen the man so glowing with pride) he moved to join Gaara and B in near the middle of the grounds.
He could see their opposing team was already in position, looking towards him with anxious eyes. Giving them a quick assessment he saw they were three normal looking Genin, around his age he guessed. The one he assumed was their leader was a tall man with wild black hair and wearing a plain mesh shirt. The two beside him were a sandy haired young man with an open jacket showing off his body and a brown haired kunoichi wearing a simple short blue kimono tied with a deep purple ribbon.
Aside from shuriken holders he couldn't see any specific weapons from them, even expanding his senses, he couldn't feel anything special from them, nothing that would explain why they looked so damn happy to be fighting three S-class ninja. 'No point dwelling on it I suppose' he decided, he was hardly a sensor type, if they were hiding something important they'd find out, if not they'd get beaten quickly and it wouldn't matter.
He had more important things to worry about at the moment anyway 'Time to put my plan into action!' at that he nodded to Gaara and B before positioning himself in opposite them, forming a rough semi-circle. Ignoring the confused and increasingly angry looks Ino was sending him, wanting to start the match, he instead stared down his team mates "On 3!" he declared
So hearing the crowd hushed, something big was happening... They moved to the edge of their seat looking for the first sign of what was going on
The other team flinched back into ready positions, unsure how to react, the match hadn't been officially started yet, should they interrupt this regardless?
Ino tensed, she'd been around Naruto long enough to know when something was going on, she'd never heard alarm bells like this going off in her head before. Something big was going to happen, something so stupid it would be talked about for generations!
"JAN!" Team Terumi all drew their fists back "KEN!" and threw them forwards... Naruto and Gaara choosing Rock and B winning with Paper.
The silence was deafening, everyone in attendance dumbstruck.
Trying to process what had just happened the audience mutely watched B celebrate, Gaara nod and Naruto complain...While searching through his pockets?
Tsunade, high in the Kage's box removed her hand from her face and stopped groaning at the display to notice Naruto had finally found what he was looking for, putting voice to the question everyone was thinking she murmered "Are...Are those cue cards?"
Apparently so, because Naruto while staring directly at the cards proceeded to read out, in a delivery so wooden it would make a preschooler blush "Oh. No. Like. A. True. Squad. Leader. I. Placed. The. Needs. Of. The. Village. Over. Myself... " Stopping for a moment he flipped to the next card "...And. Completed. A. Number. Of. High. Ranking. Missions. It. Seems. I. Am. Still. Too. Fatigued. From. Those. Missions. To..." he stopped again, flipping to the next card "...Fight."
It seemed Gaara didn't need cue cards because he simply stepped forwards and addressed Ino directly, with a stunning display of monotone "I too, remain too fatigued from our missions during the break to participate in this fight. Like a true Squad Leader, I sacrificed my needs for the village." He turned to B "I apologise B, it appears you will need to fight alone. If you manage somehow to win despite being heavily outnumbered both me and Naruto should be recovered by the next round"
"NOT TO WORRY, LIKE A TRUE SQUAD LEADER I WILL CARRY THIS BURDEN ALONE"
It was hard to tell which was more shocking to A, the fact that B had said that without rapping or that B was apparently the opposite of Naruto... Instead of a wooden delivery he simply overacted everything, having delivered his proclamation while dramatically grabbing his team mates shoulders and staring deep into their eyes.
Mei took to staring death at the team, after spending as much time as possible taking full credit for the team this was all going to reflect back on her. Tsunade simply buried her head in her hands and groaned again 'What are those idiots doing...?'
Ino seeing their performance was finally over, forced herself to stop compiling a list of untraceable poisons strong enough to kill even a Jinchuriki and through gritted teeth announced "Okay! Match St-"
Just barely retaining her fury at being interrupted she turned to the apparent leader of the Kiri team,
"Don't tell me you're just going to run away Uzumaki Naruto?!" Mesh shirt screamed, his words had a surprising amount of anger for a man who had gone from facing three S-class ninja to one.
"That's right! Come back here and fight like a man!" the kunoichi at his side announced stomping forward, the movement shaking her kimono open ever so slightly and leaving a significant amount of the male audience leering at her barely covered breasts.
"Huh?" Naruto turned back to the three utterly bewildered
The final member, wearing the open Jacket, stepped forwards at that, angrily drawing a hooked Kunai "My name is Komatsu Oko-"
"Whatever!" Naruto didn't care how rude he was being "What do you want?" he shot back waving his hand irritably at them 'these idiots are ruining our performance! People might realise me and Gaara were just faking it!'
It seemed Jacket didn't have an answer prepared for that or perhaps he was too angry at the dismissal to respond, regardless the one in the Mesh Shirt stepped forwards "What do we want? We want to KILL YOU!" he finished off with an evil glare that Naruto supposed would probably be scary to someone who hadn't spent half their life fighting S-Class criminals.
"Huh?" asked again, searching his memory and pulling a blank, he really had no idea who these guys were.
Unfortunately Mesh shirt seemed to have taken that as an excuse to monologue "That's right! You see we, are no ordinary team of Genin!" he paused dramatically at that announcement with kimono and jacket both nodding along with that so Naruto decided to take their word on it "We have hidden our skill from even our own village and Jonin instructor" he laughed at that, clearly impressed at having fooled everyone "They thought us weak, but we were simply hiding our fangs, pretending to be weak useless Genin to get this opportunity!"
Naruto knew he should have known better than to expect to have a Chunin exam without at least one complicated back story so he didn't say anything while Kimono stepped forward and continued "The opportunity when you would finally be entering the Chunin exams! When we can kill you in front of your entire village!" she tried for her own evil glare but it wasn't quite as good as Mesh shirt's so Naruto opted to just oogle her barely concealed breasts.
Mesh shirt, seeing Kimono had Naruto's captive attention, or close enough, finished off "We've studied all your abilities, we know all your attacks and all your weaknesses Uzumaki, or... Should I say..." he paused for dramatic effect one last time "NAMIKAZE!?" he laughed, again "That's right! We know all about your-" suddenly seeing the shocked look he'd been expecting was instead just a deadpan confusion he finished lamely "uh... your heritage... What!?"
"Doesn't everyone?" Naruto felt completely out of his depth here, rubbing the back of his head embarrassed. Even his irritation at these people for messing up his and Gaara's performances was gone, now he just felt like he was missing something "I mean... Dad came and fought beside me against Madara. He called me his son in front of the whole ninja army. It's not like it's a secret or anything...?"
Seeing the three of them were looking back shocked he continued rambling "I mean... Didn't you guys say you were really powerful? Weren't you there...?"
Jacket seemed to recover first "Well, uh, I mean... We were pretending to be weak Gen-"
Mesh shirt cut him off before that went any further "IT DOESN'T MATTER! Your father! The Yondaime" he ground the title out with as much rage as possible, clearly trying to recapture the dramatic mood "Killed our parents!"
"Oh" Naruto felt a bit bad about that, he knew what it was like to grow up without parents "Yeah?"
"Yes! All our parents were brutally slain by your bastard father at the battle of Nagumo valley!"
Naruto, being a fan of the Yondamie since childhood, vaguely remembered that battle 'wasn't that the time the Yondaime saved a friendly village that was under siege by Kiri reserve troops? Wait a sec... That wasn't even in the last war! That was a border skirmish a few years before I was born'. It made sense he supposed, they were a bit too young to have been born during the war. Regardless his sympathies lessened at that; if you went around attacking villages in the Land of Fire you had to expect that sort of thing.
"And now!" Mesh shirt was clearly on a roll "After years of training, of hiding our skills, we can finally have our revenge!"
Naruto blinked 'revenge? Oh right' the killing him thing "Well... Uh, it's not like I'm just gonna let you kill me..." he felt bad for them but not that bad.
Kimono tried her hand at evil laughter again "You won't need to LET us Namikaze! All of us are genius owners of incredibly powerful and supremely rare bloodlines!" she pointed at herself "In fact, I'm the last remaining member of the legendary-"
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!"
Everyone fliched back, the arena suddenly drowning in angry kunoichi killing intent. Ino had finally run out of patience.
Naruto didn't think he'd ever heard Ino swear before... Judging by the death she was staring at him he didn't think he'd ever want to again. Stalking towards the teams, making sure she had everyone's full attention she raised her hand, instantly swiping it down "MATCH STARTS NOW"
Naruto felt torn, he didn't want to risk Ino's wrath and they obviously wanted to fight him but still, fair was fair...
"Well... I mean, you're fighting B... so..." he walked away; this would be so much easier if he was better at Janken.
"Huh, looks like we're gonna have to cut down his companions first" Jacket piped up, raising his kunai menacingly
"Don't worry" Kimono reminded them of their strategy "My abilities will make short work of this one"
Mesh shirt decided to simply glare menacingly, he'd expected a three on three battle, this would be easier than he'd ever dreamed
Fifteen seconds later B was walking over to Naruto and Gaara shrugging his shoulders.
"Well... That was anti-climatic" Naruto sighed looking at the unconscious Kiri team
"It appears to be a self fulfilling prophecy" Gaara spoke up, feeling philosophical "They appeared weak and thus were not given tough missions or training, ultimately they became weak. Self training only takes you so far."
Naruto looked at B who just shrugged again
"Oh well, apparently they were really powerful? Maybe that'll look good on us becoming squad leaders?"
"Bloodlines to a ninja are just another tool! Anyone who relies on them is a fool!" B apparently didn't think much of that chance.
"Next round will be awesome though!"
"I do prefer that plan" Gaara agreed
"Next round is gonna be fun for sure! Finally gonna get to give the full tour!" B gained a little bit of his enthusiasm back
"You did really well Mini-Hina!" having some time before his next match Naruto had wandered over to where the medical team was based "The way you dropped Udon in a second, that was awesome!"
Hanabi just smiled and quietly thanked him, her emotions in a whirl at the moment. She was still pretty woozy, having only regained consciousness a short while ago and it was only just sinking in that she'd been eliminated, that she'd been knocked out in the first round... She wondered what her father would think of her.
Naruto's presence just complicated things further. It was a little hard even talking to him, she wasn't sure what to say! She still hadn't properly thanked him for saving her life in the forest. She'd been intending to after the exams at the formal dinner her father was organising for him, she'd wanted to thank him and celebrate becoming a Chunin together with him.
That thought was what really struck it home to her. She'd lost. She had only one fight in the final and hadn't achieved anything spectacular, as a rookie she'd be very unlikely to be promoted... All her dreams of becoming a Chunin, the honour she would have brought herself doing it so young, the pride. It all came down at once.
Turning to her sister, Hanabi was surprised to find herself crying "I failed didn't I?" she whispered
"Not at all Hanabi-chan!" Hinata scolded gently, collecting her into her arms "You were amazing! A Kaiten? I didn't even know you'd learned the initial steps yet!"
"Especially considering it was two on three!" Naruto added reaching over to rustle her hair "Konohamaru's been a genin for way longer than you too... He's a pretty tough kid these days and you almost won at a disadvantage!"
Cheered up slightly Hanabi wondered aloud "Isn't your match meant to be now Naruto-san?" she smiled for a second "Did you already win? Did I miss it?" surprised to find herself feeling a little bit warmer she realised she'd quite wanted to see Naruto's strength from an outside perspective, having barely seen anything last time.
"You missed it yes, It was...Uh..." Hinata struggled for words "...Quite a performance"
"Ah, heh" Naruto looked a bit abashed at that, apparently Hinata-chan had seen through his acting! He should have taken Gaara's advice to memorise his cue-cards!
Deciding it best not to explain exactly what happened during his match he spent the next few minutes just chatting with the two Hyuuga ladies, making an effort to help Hinata cheer Hanabi up.
Soon enough the medics cleared her to leave, Hanabi insisted on watching the rest of the matches so Hinata took her to stands while Naruto headed off to go find Konohamaru and congratulate him properly.
'I should probably watch these next matches too I guess, since we'll be fighting whoever wins?'
Looking briefly it seemed the match between the Iwa and Suna team was drawing to a close, Suna about to win. That just left the Iwa and Kumo match to finish round one.
"Boss! Hey! You saw me right, I did great didn't I!?"
Naruto smiled at the sight, it'd been about a half hour since his match and Konohamaru was still basking in his moment of glory, Moegi and Udon were happier than he could ever remember them too, so obviously Ebisu had been laying on the praise.
"Hell yeah! You brats did great! That was some really impressive teamwork"
He meant it too, watching Konohamaru's team all cover each other throughout the match had been impressive, it was a textbook example of why ninja operated in small cells. Partially it made him nostalgic for his days of Team 7, his team had split apart before they'd gotten to the level of intimate team knowledge Team Ebisu had showcased today, there'd been brief flashes of it at times between him and Sasuke but never three people all working in perfect harmony.
"I must thank you Naruto" Ebisu's words shook him from his thoughts "it seems your work with Konohamaru paid dividends after all"
"Hah Yeah?" Naruto was still terrible at accepting praise "Well yeah, definately! I'm a great teacher!" calming down for a minute he addressed Konohamaru directly "really though, it was hard work that got him here" it was true. Even if Konohamaru had mastered the Rasengan long ago there was no way he would have been able to bring it forth after using that many Kage Bunshins and Ash Clouds before the training.
"The last match just ended" Udon had apparently been the only one paying any attention to it. They all walked over to the edge of the balcony to watch as Ino declared the Kumo team the victors
"Oh? You guys'll be fighting first then won't you?"
Any response was cut off by Ino loudly directing the crowd's attention to the main screen, high above the Arena which was currently changing from displaying the matchups for round one to round two.
Team Kahae (Kumo) vs Team Ebisu (Konoha)
Team Terumi (Shinobi) – Bye
Team Isago (Suna) vs Team Hohiki (Kumo)
"We'll be taking a short break to clean up the arena floor. The next round will begin in ten minutes. Thank you!" Ino finished her announcement and walked away.
"Well, looks like you've got a few minutes" Naruto offered
Ebisu was suddenly all business "How are your injuries, are you rested enough?"
"I'm fine" Udon stated blandly, he hadn't been touched beyond the tenketsu points that had disabled him, luckily their effects had fully faded by now.
"I took a few hits but I'm okay" Moegi pipped up cheerfully, the only thing that'd really affected her was the genjutsu, that wouldn't leave any lasting effects.
"I'm good! I'm pumped! Watch me boss, this next fight will be even more amazing! Yeah!" Konohamaru seemed to be bursting out of his skin with excitement. Naruto couldn't help but be excited with him.
"You better win! You'll be facing my team if you win!"
That got everyone's attention; they hadn't looked that far ahead in the matchups.
Moegi and Udon suddenly looked worried, even Ebisu sighed as he pushed up his glasses. It was a shame but that would be a wall that would stop his students, there wasn't anything he could do about that.
Three Genin against two Jinchuriki and a Kage? The very idea of that fight was ridiculous, it made no sense, the more you thought about it the more it boggled the mind. If the opponent was anyone but Naruto he'd order his team to immediately surrender to save their lives. All he could hope for was that Naruto would give them a chance to give a good enough showing for their ranking.
Konohamaru however, was ultimately very similar to Naruto "Perfect! This'll be our revenge for the second stage!" jabbing his fingers into Naruto's chest once more he declared "We're far stronger than we were last time! Don't think we'll lose to you!"
His team mates stepped around beside him, this time backing up his insane boasts, nodding their agreement.
Naruto couldn't help but smile, it really was like watching a younger version of himself. Knowing the power difference and still holding too tightly on your ego and pride to back down even for a minute, it reminded him of the time he challenged Tsunade... And then when after knowing her insane power and legendary status he'd challenged her again.
'I probably shouldn't do this...' he thought, having already made up his mind 'There's probably a rule against it or something'
"Psh" Kurama snorted "Just don't forget he's your opponent when you do face him. You're not planning on surrendering again are you?"
'One time! One time! Gah'
Shutting that thought down, he took a step away from Konohamaru and held his fist out "Oi, brat" he nodded.
"Heh" Konohamaru didn't understand the meaning of the action but did it regardless, bumping it with his own fist... And was suddenly sent stumbling back "Woaaah" he called out surprised, "What was, wow, I feel good!" he declared, flexing his fist, clearly confused, but happy.
Laughing at the sight Naruto turned away heading back to his team to let them prepare "I better see you guys in the next round. Good luck you damn brats!"
Shoving his hands in his pockets with a cheeky grin on his face he ignored their renewed assurances. They'd been lucky in the first round really, while Mini-Hina's team had been skilled they hadn't caused any real injuries. Udon and Moegi were completely fine, having only been disabled. Even Konohamaru, the main target hadn't taken any real damage through the fight.
Unfortunately being the main target had other draw backs, as Ebisu had pointed out Konohamaru had needed a lot of chakra to win. Naruto chucked 'No idea how he was planning on fighting the next match with almost no chakra left.'
"How much did you give him?"
'Eh, only a fraction. Just a drop really'
Said drop just so happened to be exactly enough to fill the boys chakra pool. There was something to be said about being a master at chakra transference.
"I like that brat. It'll be interesting watching his match"
He laughed at that 'You like another Konoha ninja? Geez, you really are just a big softie aren't ya?'
Hearing a deafening roar of anger coming from within your very soul was always an odd experience.
Sitting beside Gaara and B watching Konohamaru's next match turned out to be one of the most frustrating experiences in Naruto's life.
Simply put, the team from Kumo had them outclassed. The actual skill levels weren't too different, if anything Team Ebisu probably had a slight edge due to the sheer power of the techniques Konohamaru knew, the Rasengan was a game changer whenever it was brought out.
Unfortunately it was a game changer he never got the chance to use, because Team Kahae had been watching the fight with Hanabi's team closely. Where Hanabi's team had focussed on taking down Konohamaru attempting strong direct actions to remove the biggest asset from the battlefield straight away, Kahae was doing the opposite. Using the trees on the edge of the arena to maximum advantage alongside long range ninjutsu they launched hit and run techniques aimed at Moegi and Udon.
Team Ebisu had wonderful team work and great team management, however by splitting Konohamaru's attention between defensive manoeuvres on both his team mates and being forced to avoid long ranged Raiton strikes, Konohamaru had few chances to go on the offence. Moegi was in a similar situation, most of her skills based around close quarter combat, she, like Konohamaru relied on Udon's support and genjutsu to close the gap against these types of enemies and with so much pressure on him Udon had to spend most of his time actively dodging or parrying their strikes, no chance to maintain the precise control needed by genjutsu.
B, knowing Naruto's relationship with team Ebisu and having no idea who team Kahae even was, did make an effort to keep his cheering low, but it was obvious pretty early on that Kumo would be taking this round.
Naruto simply spent the fight gritting his teeth and hoping for a sudden upset, a hidden strategy, something brilliant from the brats.
Unfortunately it wasn't to be. Konohamaru surprisingly, was the first to go down, having intercepted a strong Raiton technique aimed at Udon he was paralysed for just long enough to be intercepted by two of the Kumo team and dropped with lightning fast taijutsu.
Moegi managed to cut them off before they could retreat and return to their hit and run tactics, taking both of them on at the same time she traded taijutsu and close range ninjutsu back and forth while Udon, finally having some room created openings for her with rapid layered genjutsu and a few long range ninjutsu of his own.
Unfortunately that action ended up leaving him open for one last hit and run attack from the remaining member of the Kumo squad, who had used the confusion to circle around from behind and rushed in the moment he began his handseals, taking him out from behind with a Raiton Palm.
With the openings created by Udon, Moegi fought a brilliant last stand, knocking one of the Kumo team clear across the arena and severely injuring another before finally succumbing to her wounds and fatigue, utterly overwhelmed by their counterattack.
And so with three members down to one, team Kahae advanced to the next round while Naruto discovered he was strong enough to crush the section of the railing he'd been gripping in frustration.
There wasn't anything to do aside from watching his friends get carted off to the med bay. While they were all pretty badly wounded he didn't see anything that he thought would give them permanent injurues... Then again he was never very good at judging how badly injured others were, living life with an almost instant healing ability tended to skew his viewpoint on what was or wasn't serious or lasting.
Slumping back in his seat and nodding at the polite condolences offered by his team he found it hard to resist the desire to get petty revenge for Team Ebisu. The other team hadn't done anything bad, they hadn't been malicious or anything... But they'd still hurt his friends and probably crushed their chance to be Chunin!
'No. No, it's fine' he sighed, calming his thoughts. He wasn't the kind of guy to bother with revenge, even thinking of revenge felt like he was betraying Ero-Sennin's memory. 'We'll just go as we planned.'
Still, that thought didn't cheer him up so he spent the next round sulking while Gaara and B cheered on their Genin for the final match of the round. Gaara gave his support to the Suna team with B supporting the final Kumo team.
As fate would have it, not only did the Kumo team win but according to the scoreboard for the next round Ino directed them to afterwards they also secured themselves the final Bye. No matter what happened at least one Kumo team was guaranteed to be in the grand final, you easily could hear the appreciation of that from the Kumo stands. Gaara was a bit upset at that, having only one Suna team in the finals always made it unlikely but he had wanted Suna to make a good showing of themselves.
Team Kahae (Kumo) vs Team Terumi (Shinobi)
Team Hohiki (Kumo) – Bye
Any hopes Ino may have had for the Naruto's next match to not be as ridiculous quickly evaporated as she saw team Terumi standing in a semi circle again, staring each other down.
'I suppose it's easier to just have one member of Naruto's team fighting each time' she conceded, even if it was ridiculous. Of course that meant that there was a chance Naruto wouldn't get to fight this entire tournament, she wondered if he had a plan for that.
'Wow, Naruto and Gaara really suck at Janken' she noted, wasn't Naruto meant to be great at gambling? Apparently his luck didn't stretch that far, seeing as he and Gaara had both thrown scissors and B beaten again them with a rock.
Everyone leaned forwards in their seats to watch what they assumed would be another performance, expecting Naruto and Gaara to bow out again, they were therefore surprised when aside from some grumbling from Naruto at losing again the whole team lined up ready for the match to begin.
Ino, with a familiar dread forming in the pit of her stomach, the knowledge that very soon something incredibly stupid was going to happen, had no choice but to begin the match "THIRD ROUND, MATCH START!"
And... That was the end of it. Everyone just blinked. One second the match had begun, the next Naruto was standing atop the body of one of their opponents and the other two sprawled backwards behind him.
'S-sage mode!?' Ino was looking at him shocked, she had no idea why he'd used Sage mode against a team of Genin. She hadn't even seen him go into it! He must have been gathering nature chakra as they waited for her to start the match she realised... Even as a high level ninja she'd only just managed to follow what had happened, she doubted the civilians would have been able to see a thing. 'And, since when could he use an Orange Flash in Sage mode?' she noted his improvement, not seeing any 9-Tails chakra.
Suddenly jolted from her thoughts she realised she had a job she was meant to be doing "Alright! Winner Te-"
And to her annoyance, Ino was interrupted again "WAIT! OH NO, MY BODY... I CAN'T CONTROL IT!" B was once again overacting. "I MUST BE CAUGHT BY ONE OF THEIR JUTSU!" finishing the act he started making incredibly telegraphed attacks towards Gaara.
Ino resisted the urge to bury her face in her hands, one look at their opponents clearly showed they were unconscious. Most of the crowd seemed to have come to a similar conclusion based on the dumbfounded expressions she could see.
"Oh. No. Gaara! B. Has. Been. Caught. In. A. Mind. Control. Technique" Naruto was once again staring directly at the cue cards in his hands "It. Seems. To. Win. We..." he paused for a second flipping to the next card "Will. Have. To. Fight. Our. Friend!"
"Unfortunately so" Gaara finished, once again in a dead monotone, raising his sand to begin.
"Luckily" Tsunade's angry voice cut through the terrible performance "It seems they have no control of his Biju powers". She was clearly unimpressed; her glare from under her hat was visible even from the arena floor. Still she seemed to be allowing the performance to continue, Naruto grinned and cracked his knuckles "Of course"
Ino was even more shocked at that 'Tsunade-sama... Is helping them? She's letting this continue?' a second later she realised why 'Well, I suppose it might be a good show and without the 8-tails power it shouldn't be too dangerous...' so giving up, she simply dragged the three bodies of Team Kahae off to stop them from being caught in the crossfire.
The crowd, initially bewildered at the performance quickly realised exactly what they were being offered; a battle beyond anything you'd ever see in a Chunin exam, beyond anything you'd ever see even in the highly exclusive Jonin exams! A Kage and the 9-Tails Jinchuriki fighting against the 8-Tails Jinchuriki! Even without using their Biju powers, this was a matchup you would never see the likes of again. The excited roar of the crowd was drowning the stadium before the first punch was even thrown.
The fight was brutal, it was fast, it was decisive but most importantly it was decidedly one sided.
For all B's immense skill and experience, unlike both Naruto and Gaara almost all his training had been focussed around his status as a Jinchuriki. Naruto had been a ninja first and a Jinchuriki second, Gaara had simply been too unstable for most of his life for it to be worth risking training him to draw on his Biju's power.
So, while for Naruto not using the 9-Tails chakra simply meant losing some of his abilities and power, for B it was like cutting off an arm, having to stop himself from using partial transformation tentacles to block or avoid attacks meant constant conscious effort which notably sapped his focus and dulled his reactions.
That said, B would never be a pushover. Dispelling countless Kage Bunshins with chained ration techniques or slashing through the encroaching sand with Samehada he had the Kumo section of the crowd on their feet cheering their hearts out in seconds.
Naruto showcased a significant amount of his versatility through genius manipulation of Kage Bunshin, Henge and distraction techniques, catching B out multiple times through double or triple bluffs.
Gaara spent most of his efforts either supporting Naruto or redirecting B's counterattacks, stopping his advances through Sand Shurikens, herding his movements through Sand Bunshin and defending his attacks with Sand Shield techniques. Having no Biju of his own anymore his chakra reserves, while significant for a man his age, were simply dwarfed by Naruto or B's, so control and support was the smartest route for him.
The battle dragged on, back and forth over the better part of a half hour, high level technique followed high level technique back to back to the point where the crowd rather than being shocked at seeing B perform a flawless 6 stage Jumping Lightning technique were screaming for an unprecedented 7 stage technique. Rather than being blown away seeing Naruto use a double bluff of Kage Bunshin to set up a mid-size Rasenshuriken they were on their feet calling for more.
B, while taking significantly more damage than either Naruto or Gaara was still the second strongest Jinchuriki and thus held amazing durability and significant healing factor. Simply put, for all the endless attacks they launched at him, those that weren't batted away by Samehada simply served to show just how tough B truly was.
None the less he was breathing hard. B took a moment to create some space "Hah, you fools look beat. Isn't it about time to admit defeat?" as far as B could tell Gaara was still mostly fresh, Naruto had been doing most of the work so far, still, if he could just get one good swipe on him with Samehada that should be enough to force him to concede.
They still had to win the tournament after all, they weren't aiming to do irreparable harm to each other. If he beat one of them he would then surrender, claiming the Jutsu had dissipated, but! That would count as his victory! He smiled, he was beat, he was tired, he was bleeding, but it was a damn fun fight and he was enjoying every second of it. He intended to win!
"I believe it is you who should surrender. Why not save yourself the pain and stop here?" Gaara offered diplomatically, knowing he would decline.
Naruto didn't even wait for an answer "No need for that! I'll beat you in one more move! Gaara, c'mere, I've got a plan!" making a quick motion for Gaara to follow his lead he dropped a smoke bomb and they were swiftly hidden in a cloud of white smoke.
B created more space out of caution, he knew Naruto very well by now, they'd fought together multiple times and sparred together many more. He knew enough about Naruto to be wary of any plan the boy thought up. Naruto would be considered a tactical genius if only he could plan worth a damn anytime except on the fly... Still, he also knew Naruto well enough to know the basis of most of his plans, he was confident in his ability to see through them. Naruto never had much patience; the first attack should be soon, soon... There!
Rolling to his left he dodged a fuma shuriken, in the same motion throwing one of his supervibrato blades to dispel it when it turned out to be a transformed Naruto clone. A familiar tactic, he knew Naruto well, he wouldn't fall for his plans easily.
With no time to counterattack, he was surprised to find himself quickly pushed on his defence by a sudden barrage of sand attacks coming from Gaara. Assaulted from all directions with tendrils either attempting to slam into him, or catch him and slow his movements, dispelling attacks that close to the ground with Samehada wasn't feasible so he was forced to waste chakra sending lightning surges into the ground to keep the sand at bay. Still, he knew Gaara wouldn't be able to keep up a constant barrage of attacks for long, something like this was...
"A diversion!" he called out suddenly noticing the three Naruto's running directly at him Gaara had been attempting to prevent him from seeing. 'A double Rasengan' he realised quickly, with the main Naruto holding his hands back and two clones running directly behind him, there was nothing else it could be.
He could instantly see that Naruto had made a mistake, or perhaps Gaara hadn't been good enough. Naruto was one step too far away from him, he had just barely enough time to counterattack and disrupt the attack. It would be close, he would only make it by a fraction of a second but that moment was the edge between victory or defeat...
B quickly brought his sword up and smirked at the charging Naruto "Boyeee, I know all your tricks! You need more than that with Killer B in the mix!"
So saying he then abruptly jumped backwards, flipping in the air... Right over another set of Naruto's set to land a double Rasengan on his back the moment he attacked the first set.
"Hahah! Single bluff. Double bluff. Don't matter if you ain't good enough!"
Saying that, he ignored all the Naruto clones and showing off his insane speed charged directly at where Gaara was standing in the now dissipating smoke... Right at the conspicuous Naruto standing beside him.
"I know you, I know your plan! Everyone thinks, only a fool attacks with their real self. So you bait with a clone and risk yo health!"
To the audience struggling to keep up, the display was definitely impressive! Naruto defiantly appeared to have something planned but it seemed B was seeing through him so far, but then, why was he attacking what he knew was a clone?
"But! You know I knew!" moving so swiftly Naruto couldn't even react he slammed Samehada down "The real body is YOU!"
Naruto stumbled back horror stricken, "Wha... How?" he grasped desperately at the huge gash forming down his chest, shocked.
The crowd silenced, Naruto's plan had been seen straight through? Naruto, an almost legendary figure to many, had just been beaten?
Kakashi raised an eyebrow.
Tsunade reeled back in surprise.
"No!" Hinata gasped, tightening her grip on Hanabi's hand, shocked and worried.
Sakura just smiled a knowing smile.
Naruto... Exploded into sand
"Wha!?" B cried out caught completely flatfooted as the sand surged towards him, catching him around his knees and rooting him dangerously in place, forcing him to swing Samehada into the ground to dislodge himself, which gave Gaara enough of an opening to send two spikes of Sand at B's hands, forcing him to release his grip on the sword and leap back unarmed.
His mind was spinning at a hundred miles an hour, if that wasn't Naruto, then, he must be one of the ones who'd attacked him before... But that didn't make sense... He knew Naruto's plans, that didn't fit, that didn't give him any advantage... His mind spun at a hundred miles an hour and always landed in the same place, where was Naruto?
Luckily he didn't have to wonder for long as the ground below him opened up and he was launched into the air from a vicious uppercut courtesy of a tunnelling Naruto.
The attack left him completely open for just a moment, hanging suspended in the air for just a second.
Which was long enough for three clones to form around the revealed Naruto, running their hands over his until he held what appeared to be a standard Rasengan orbited by three smaller Mini Rasengan... An attack he'd never seen before.
In Sage mode it didn't have a fraction of the power it had in his perfect 9-Tailed Chakra mode, he could only stabilise a standard Rasengan and some Mini-Rasengan, not an Odama Rasengan orbited by standard Rasengan... The power was almost incomparable. Yet, it was still an S-Rank technique more powerful than anything most of the audience had ever seen. When it drilled into B's stomach and sent him flying across the arena to slam into the wall it was clear the match was over.
The sudden turn of events was so surprising it took a few moments for the audience to suddenly start roaring their approval at Naruto and Gaara's victory, awe struck both at Naruto's sheer amount of plans within plans and for Gaara's masterful support, seeing the true plan instantly and adjusting his role to suit.
And of course, as they helped B to his feet and let him loudly declare that the Jutsu controlling him had been broken the audience cheered for him so loudly it was impossible to hear Ino declare Team Terumi the victor and announce their participation in the final round.
Team Terumi lead B over to the med bay, Sakura herself rushing forwards to take care of the man as Ino directed the crowd to the main display one final time
Team Terumi (Shinobi) vs Team Hohiki (Kumo)
It was then declared that since they had just fought there would be a twenty minute rest period. Enough time for the fighters to bandage their wounds and for anyone in the audience to stretch their legs.
B, while dazed at first from Naruto's attack was quickly back on his feet rapping, swearing his victory in a rematch and generally bursting with his normal energy. Sakura explained in great detail exactly why but Naruto tuned her out just picking up the basic gist of it. Apparently because he'd only used his normal chakra and not touched Gyuki's his healing factor covered the injuries quickly and he still had all his reserves. So, a few minutes under Sakura's expert Ministrations restored his normal chakra and he was at full strength at a speed that to a non-Jinchuriki was frightening.
Sakura having had so much experience with Naruto expected nothing less, the other medics struggled to contain incredulous glances. They'd all heard about the power of a Jinchuriki but seeing just how tough they were, it was hard to imagine one ever being taken down. To be back to full power in minutes after fighting two Kage level shinobi and taking an S-Rank jutsu to the gut was to a normal ninja simply beyond imagining.
With nothing else to do before the grand final Gaara opted to begin meditating, aiming to get back his full reserves before the next round. B and Naruto settled for simply hanging out with Sakura, Naruto especially was happy about that, he hadn't had much time to talk with her since the break for the final test.
Sakura surprisingly enough was receptive to this, enjoying her time with the two hyperactive, loudmouth ninja. Unlike the second test, Naruto's team's ridiculous actions made her job significantly easier, none of the participants had been seriously injured and anyone that'd fought Team Terumi had simply been unceremoniously knocked out, with no lasting injuries.
Fifteen minutes after Ino's announcement it was a refreshed and buoyant Team Terumi facing off against a fearful team Hohiki for the grand prize.
The crowd, surprisingly enough, actually seemed interested in this ridiculously unfair match. Team Terumi had managed to be nothing if not entertaining so far, everyone was anxious to see what they'd pull out this time!
Ino having learned her lesson, this time made a point of waiting for Naruto's ridiculous Janken antics and was surprised to see his team simply lined up, ready to begin. Sighing, she decided to just get it over with, raising and lowering her hand before anyone could even think to interrupt her "FINAL MATCH! BEGIN!"
Team Terumi didn't move, just stood in a line smiling balefully at their opponents. Somehow that made it even worse.
Team Hohiki, fearing the worst but wanting to make the best of the situation and at least display their talents didn't move... Attacking three S-Class ninja was ridiculous at the best of times, doing so recklessly right now, in front of an audience would quickly torpedo any chance they had at promotion.
Their best bet was to wait for an opening and scatter, attempt to single the members out and launch hit and run techniques, two of their members were kenjutsu specialists, so they had a good chance of dealing at least some damage... Or at least of looking impressive while achieving nothing, they didn't have a lot of hope.
Still, staring down at three legendary ninja it was all they could do to not scatter instantly, only the knowledge that doing so would mean instant defeat held them back. To just turn and try run without an opening was the most basic mistake any Genin could make, they just had to hope, one moment, one slight gap from overconfidence...
Unfortunately for them instead the Kazekage slowly walked towards them, a slight smile on his face extending one hand out in front of him.
"I wanted to congratulate you on making it this far in the exams" he said, neither slowing nor increasing his pace.
"You must have worked very hard. Well done"
Before they knew it he was right in front of them, extending his hand to their leader. It wasn't an offer they could refuse! Even being from a foreign village, you can't just snub the Kazekage!
And so, extending his hand warily to meet Gaara's their leader was completely taken off guard when Gaara suddenly exploded into sand! He was screaming in shock as the sand quickly spread across his team, gripping them up to their knees and holding them tightly in place. The real Gaara now appearing from the ground beside his team, gave them a pleased smile as they strained futily to free themselves.
"Final Match! Here we go!" They looked up to see Naruto dispelling his bunshin, holding a fully completed Odama Rasengan, sprinting towards the terrified Genin.
"Wooooo!" B whooped, looking over they saw lightning coursing through his arm as he prepared his famous Lariat, he too leapt forwards.
"It's over" Gaara confirmed raising his hands to crush their legs into paste.
The ending was as obvious as it was disappointing
"I SURRENDER! I SURRENDERISURRENDERISURRENDERISURRENDER!"
"WE SURRENDER! OH GOD! WESURRERNDER! STOP!"
"WAIT! I GIVE! I GIVE! STOP!"
As Ino declared Team Terumi the winners the reactions in the Kage's box was mixed.
A seemed to find the whole thing hilarious. While it was a shame to see two Kumo teams beaten in a row, the show they'd put on had him laughing uproariously.
Mei was quite pleased. She'd been worried about their ridiculous displays after the first round but other than terrible acting (how do you manage to get to their level of power as a ninja and still not be able to conceal information she wondered) they'd displayed overwhelming strength and in the 2v1 battle shown a great grasp of tactics. While they were definitely unorthodox she was more than happy to take full credit for all their abilities and strength, they had represented Kiri well!
Onoki's reaction was similar to A's, no Iwa teams were competing after the first round so he'd mostly tuned out the matches aside from team Terumi. While he didn't get much from the trip in terms of promotable Genin, he'd gotten a great deal of amusement and that would suffice.
Kankuro was just relieved the whole thing was finally over. He wondered for the hundredth time how they managed to wear such ridiculous clothes, the hat was really starting to irritate him. At least he'd been able to push the remaining paperwork on Temari until Gaara returned. On second thought, since he'd done it via a note he'd left her before leaving the village, it might be best if he stayed in Konoha for a short time until Gaara got back...
Tsunade had finally removed her head from her hands and finished groaning to take in Ino walking to the center of the ring and going through the motions declaring team Terumi the victors with all the standard accolades.
She knew she should be mostly grateful. Whichever Chunin exam Naruto finally entered was pretty much guaranteed to be a wash regardless, his power was so out of the bounds he couldn't help but ruin it... This was definitely the best exams to have him in, most of the promising Genin had already been promoted after the war, most of the teams she'd entered had been just getting experience in the exams. She assumed the other Kage's had done similar judging by the quality she'd seen.
But still 'I entered 20 damn teams in this exam and none of them are candidates...' she groaned again, 'That damn brat. Ruined the entire exam' she knew it would be bad. She knew it. She'd just hoped it wouldn't be this bad. She sighed one last time, perking herself up 'At least it's finally over. Naruto's finally done his damn Chunin exam, he did look strong, it'll reflect very well on us, it's over and done with... Wait...Huh... Was that Naruto's voice?'
"YEAH! I SAID, THAT WAS TOO BORING!" Naruto's voice, seemingly amplified with chakra (or maybe he just was that loud? It was hard to tell with him) echoed across the stadium, was easily heard over the remaining polite cheering and clapping of the crowd.
"WHO WANTS TO SEE SOME REAL ACTION!?"
Tsunade panicked. He was doing something stupid, again...
A laughed harder, enjoying the show.
Onoki joined him, who knew Konoha ninja were so interesting?
Mei raised an eyebrow, intrigued.
Kankuro wondered if it'd be okay to take the hat off, the tournament was over right?
The crowd's reaction was immediate, a huge roar drowning out any possible complaints Ino or anyone else may have raised.
The decision was clearly made.
The atmosphere being generated in the arena floor was strong enough that even a Jonin would find it hard to stand. Three Kage level Shinobi, each legends of their time standing in a triangle along the edges of the arena, staring each other down.
"Free for all, of course" Gaara clarified unnecessarily
"Oooh yeah!" B agreed, drawing the Samehada and forming a few octopus tentacles around him, his partial 8-Tails state giving him an ominous appearance.
"One thing!" Naruto declared as he prepared clones to channel natural chakra for him "We gott'a keep this fair y'know? Gaara doesn't have a Biju anymore..." trailing the obvious implication off, he opened his eyes achieving Sage mode.
"Me and Mr 8 are a pair! One fighting without the other is unfair!" B grumbled but did accept that without any Biju Gaara would be unfairly unmatched and retracted the tentacles. He wasn't too worried, Samehada alone gave him enough of an edge.
"TRUE FINAL MATCH... LET'S GO!" Naruto called out, forming a legion of clones as he sprinted towards the center of the arena to meet the similar assaults of Gaara and B.
Anyone in the crowd who had been thinking of leaving with the conclusion of the exams quickly changed their minds, either hurrying back to their seats or to whatever space could be found against the railing of the balconies.
For the civilians of the audience, the kind of people who had yet to fully understand the difference between a true S-Class Shinobi and even an A-Rank legend the battle was simply impossible to put into words. High level techniques flowed like water, all three ninja dealing and taking insane amounts of damage. Naruto and B were like juggernauts shrugging off any damage dealt to them, Gaara was avoiding most damage and cushioning what he couldn't with an Armour or Shield of Sand.
In the Iwa, Kiri or miscellaneous sections the crowd mostly cheered whoever was currently displaying the most impressive technique.
They cheered for Gaara when he not only escaped an omnidirectional Rasengan Barrage but did used his sand to change the arena in such a way that B ended up taking a large amount of hits.
They yelled for B when he opened his Samehada to pull out five supervibrato blades and then somehow managed to wield them as well as the two handed Samehada, performing a kenjutsu style that beyond being flashy and ridiculous was impossible to counter and incredibly effective. Mowing though Gaara's desperate defences and stopping any assault Naruto attempted.
They whooped when Naruto, the most recognizable of the three, fooled everyone right before their eyes. Fighting less as a prankster and more as a magician, misdirection, bluffs, clones and transformations backed up by unquestionable strength and the sheer unstoppable taijutsu power of the Frog Kata. They watched even Gaara's absolute defense or B's incredible reactions do nothing against the natural energy that surrounded his attacks, huge damage being dealt without even needing to land the hit.
The Suna ninja undoubtedly cheered on their Kazekage, cheering and bellowing as he showed over and over again that he was without doubt the strongest in their village. His brilliant tactics and incredible techniques allowing him to stand strong even against the greatest two Jinchuriki.
The Kumo ninja were even less reserved, stamping their feet and hollering with all their might for B. While he had at times been a reclusive figure, none doubted the importance of his role as Guardian of Kumo. The legends of his exploits in the last war had spread far throughout Kumo and beyond, seeing them on display here, with his unstoppable power, his unique fighting style, his instinctive moulding of lightning chakra it was clear that even without his Biju he was an amazing figure.
Unsurprisingly though, loudest of all were the Konoha spectators. Aside from outnumbering the other ninja by a considerable margin the Konoha crowd, especially among Naruto's close friends showed absolutely no restraint in yelling or screaming for his victory. For most of them the last time they'd ever gotten a chance to see the "Hero of Konoha's" now legendary power had been either in the final battle against Madara or when he was fighting Pain after the destruction of Konoha...They quickly found it was far more enjoyable to see the skills displayed here with nothing at stake.
Possibly most surprising was that the battle raged back and forth between the three contestants mostly evenly.
Waves of Bunshin were cleared before a decisive Rasengan could land on B and the real body was discovered and forced to defend itself from being impaled by spikes of sand. The Samehada cut through Gaara's sand easily but was assaulted time and again by Naruto's clones and B was forced to use his supervibrato blades to dispel Rasengan after Rasengan keeping him from landing any kind of decisive blow. Spikes and tendrils of sand relentlessly attacked both B and Naruto, yet Gaara constantly had to pull resources back into himself to prevent a key Raiton strike or to desperately avoid a Rasenshuriken.
Quite simply, with Naruto limited to Sage mode and B not using his 8-Tails power they were unable to gain and upper hand either on each other or on Gaara. Gaara while having no restraints on his power had significantly lower limits. Any chakra used on defence was chakra he couldn't use to defeat or disable his foes.
The fight dragged on for more than a half hour before the breaking point finally occurred.
B charged towards Gaara with his signature Lariat, Gaara's sand surged forwards wrapping it around B's legs, lacking the strength to stop him completely but with enough to disrupt and break the technique... However, the difference in stamina finally caught up to him and for just a moment his Sand lacked the strength required, for less than a second he faltered.
Long enough for B to beak the hold and charge towards him as little more than a blur,Llariat aimed at his chest, slamming right into Gaara.
Gaara's desperate sand armour was smashed apart by the incredible speed and force of the Lariat. The Kazekage was sent flying.
The damage was heavy, the strongest hit Gaara had ever received... However, it was recoverable, sucking in what air he could he attempted to orient himself to land and create distance. Unfortunately, looking up Gaara suddenly saw he was heading directly for a group of Naruto Bunshin.
Without time to react his momentum was stopped as four kicks slammed into him, sending him skywards
Feeling his sand armour completely gone, Gaara could only watch in horror as another Naruto appeared above him in the air... Suddenly becoming three more, each holding a Rasengan
He was sent hurtling back to earth at frightening speed, slamming into the dirt without hope for any form of recovery and skidding along the ground to crumple against the wall of the arena. It was clear his match was over, yet, it was a testament to the strength and will of the Kazekage that even after such a hit, even after doubling over and coughing up blood Gaara never lost consciousness.
The Suna ninja screamed in fury at seeing their Kage so unfairly ganged up on, screaming for vengeance but the damage was already done. Gaara was quickly converged on by the medical team and removed from the crossfire of the battle.
Naruto and B however were in their own world, stopping opposite each other after the removal of Gaara.
"You know boy, no reason to hold back now! We're both Jinchuriki, time to show em how!" B was grinning, finally, finally he would get to display his full power. Feeling all eight Tentacles form, quickly taking on his full transformed state he let out a roar of joy.
"Hell yeah!" Naruto agreed, drawing his power in for just a moment before combining his Sage mode with his Perfect Nine Tails Chakra mode.
"I will never lose to the 8-Tails!" Kurama shouted in Naruto's soul, forming his head beside Naruto and roaring his bloodlust.
For the audience, it was clear, everything had changed. The battle was about to be fought on a level far beyond anything they'd ever dreamed. The sections near B were practically smothered in the excitement and exuberance rolling off his chakra, converted from the 8-Tail's malevolent mass. Those near Naruto side of the arena were simply awash in the joy and excitement they could feel from his transformation of the 9-Tails chakra.
The two Shinobi stood still for a moment, each in their most powerful state. Their sheer presences clashing, vying for dominance... For just a second.
Then the battle truly began.
Clashing together, it was almost impossible to keep up with actions, Naruto disappearing and reappearing with little more than an Orange Flash. B defending and pushing back with the legendary Lightning Speed of Kumo.
A group of Kage Bunshin were dispersed and a Planetary Rasengan was deflected into a (thankfully empty) section of the Arena wall, blowing it to pieces and sending all but the strongest spectators reeling back at the shockwave.
A pair of Raiton Bunshin and Tail-Clones were caught and dispersed with a Rasenkyugan, the resulting lightning crackling through the air.
Three Octopus tails were lost to a double Rasenshuriken.
Four Fox tails were destroyed by an unheard of 8 stage Jumping Lightning technique.
The damage to the ground and to the walls of the stadium made it very clear, by now Naruto and B were engrossed solely in their fight. Caught in their own world, they were intent on nothing more and nothing less than complete victory. It was a spectacle impossible to take your eyes off... Yet, while it wasn't dangerous just yet, it was clearly escalating...
Suddenly, without a word, without a comment, with nothing more than a clash of fists in mid air both fighters leapt apart, landing opposite each other near the center of the arena.
Both stared each other down.
They knew it was time for victory or defeat, time for the final blow.
The crowd stared in anticipation, silencing instinctively.
Suddenly the nature of the chakra changed, a huge spike of force collecting in front of both fighters, as if all the energy in the region was being collected in a single super dense point. Anyone who had survived the final push against Madara instantly recognised the feeling, staring forward in muted horror and a shared thought of 'OH SHIT!'
A giant Fox head covered Naruto, mouth open around his hands forming black mass of destruction.
B, transformed as 8-Tails had his mouth wide open, collecting as much power as possible, a giant black mass forming ahead of him.
Suddenly a sound like a meteor hitting the ground echoed through the stadium, before the accompanying earthquake shook the arena to its foundations.
Both fighters losing their concentration were suddenly hit by the backlash from their failed Biju Dama and blown back with unbelievable force into the walls of the arena. Their Biju power released, they each slumped down stunned.
"Woah" B shook his head 'What happened?' he thought dizzily 'An earthquake?' suddenly his mind cleared enough that he was feeling his entire body screaming at him, the Biju Dama blowing up in his face and being slammed into the arena wall, on top of all the damage Naruto had done to him, he suddenly realised he couldn't move.
He then quickly realised that was a very bad thing... For walking out of the giant crater that used to be the center of the arena was Tsunade Godaime Hokage and she did not look happy. No he corrected, suddenly very fearful, no, she did not look happy at all.
Naruto blinked, confused, "What hit me?" groaning as he tried to move his body and finding it spending all its strength recovering from the damage he'd taken he slumped back and attempted to figure out what had just happened. 'An earthquake? But- Oh... OH SHIT!'
Looking at the scene of said earthquake he could see the unforgettable figure of the legendary Slug Sanin as she stormed over to B, picked him up by his vest and turned his way, heading right for him.
Desperately urging his body to move Naruto panicked, this was bad, this was beyond bad. He hadn't seen Baa-chan this mad since... He'd never seen her this mad!
That was as far as he got before he was unceremoniously yanked off the ground by the collar of his jacket.
Both S-Rank Ninja, held aloft by the Hokage, wilted under her deathly glare.
"ARE YOU IDIOTS TRYING TO DESTROY MY ARENA!?"
Wincing at her volume, they gulped in unison.
"YOU WANT TO FIGHT!? DO IT OUTSIDE MY VILLAGE!"
So saying, Tsunade gave an amazing demonstration of her renowned strength, rearing back and hurling both Jinchuriki out of the stadium and far into the distance.
Then turning to the stunned crowd she quickly dismissed them "Show's over folks. Thank you again for your kind participation"
And that, without fanfare or further ceremony, was the end of the Chunin Exams.
It was a rather sheepish Team Terumi that was called into Tsunade's office the next day, the summons wasn't exactly unexpected, instead it was something they were dreading. It wasn't hard to imagine that the Hokage would be very displeased with their actions throughout the final... Especially the final act between B and Naruto.
Despite dragging their feet and wincing from their still healing injuries they all showed up on time. No reason to give her another thing to be angry at them for.
Ushering in by a frazzled looking Shizune they were soon standing in front of Tsunade as she ignored them, clearly intent on letting them sweat as she worked through some of the mountain of paperwork on her desk.
A few minutes later, just as Naruto had begun to twitch, her steely voice broke the silence and she looked up at them just "So"
She gestured at a stack of paperwork at least half a meter high, the largest pile of paperwork on her desk "What do you think these are?"
The question was clearly meant to be rhetorical, intending for them to sit and sweat for another few moments, Naruto of course missed that and took a wild stab "Uh... New missions for Konoha? Oh!" he brightened at that idea "Any good ones for me?"
"Not quite. No" Tsunade smoothly answered, raising to her full height to stare down at them. "These are requests from dignitaries, councilmen, foreign nations and even from some of the exam proctors. They all say more or less the same thing."
She pinned Naruto with an ice cold glare, freezing him in place "They have all requested, to ensure that nothing like this debacle ever happens again..."
She paused for a moment, letting him fret "...They have requested that I promote you directly to Jonin. I have decided to accept these requests"
With that she reached down beside her and picked up a Jonin flack jacket and certificates of confirmation for both Chunin and Jonin status, clearly having prepared this for their arrival.
Walking around the desk her glare had turned into a loving smile as she handed the items to a stunned Naruto before pulling him into a warm hug, burying him into her mountainous chest "Well deserved and about time... Congratulations you damn brat."
Blinking back surprised tears of joy, Naruto stepped back finally letting it sink in just what he was holding "Jo...Nin... Jonin... Jonin! Jonin! JoninJoninJoninJonin! I'M A JONIN! YEAH!"
Tsunade privately thought of herself a bit like a mother figure for Naruto, thinking that if she'd had a son she'd want him to be like he was, and so, like a proud mother enjoyed watching his frenzied celebration for a few minutes before returning to her desk to address the remaining issues at hand.
"Kazekage-sama, Killer B" she pulled both of them away from their jubilant congratulations to Naruto, having aimed to make Chunin this was clearly more than any of them had been expecting "while my jurisdiction doesn't extend outside my village I am assured that your villages have both received similar requests. From my discussions with Raikage-sama I expect a similar promotion for yourself Killer B and you will no doubt be asked to award yourself Jonin status as well Kazekage-sama"
With that Naruto quickly pulled them all into his celebrations, eagerly celebrating their own triumph as well. Despite the fact that Gaara as a Kage and that everyone had forgotten B wasn't a Jonin, it felt surprisingly good to actually earn it!
Coughing lightly to get their attention again Tsunade continued "No other Konoha teams are being considered for promotion this time around so we were able to make this decision very quickly. Really... I had twenty teams entered this time, you guys really overdid it" She groaned.
Too happy to even feel guilty Team Terumi barely even responded.
The meeting concluded they thanked the Hokage one last time with Naruto suddenly running over to hug her again, earning himself a warm smile. Turning to leave, Naruto was already discussing plans for a celebratory party.
"Oh ah, just... One more thing" Tsunade's voice stopped them just short of the door.
Walking back over to the desk she pushed a new piece of paper to each of them. Picking it up Naruto paled... It was a bill... He looked at the bottom, a very, very large bill. He looked back at Tsunade who was now sporting a rather predatory grin, leaning over the desk onto her hands.
"That's to cover the damage caused to the Arena" she explained as if it was nothing "Kazekage-sama, Killer B, the costs will be delivered directly to your villages and it'll be up to them to determine how they pay. Naruto... That's coming directly from a portion of your wages"
Naruto looked back at the bill again and saw the details, a portion of his wages... A large portion. Unless he got a lot of S-class missions he was going to be back to only Instant Ramen for the next few months.
B had a similar reaction, able to guess how the fee would be paid by his village "This is a big bill... Gonna take a long time to pay my fill" he rapped weakly.
"But Hokage-sama" Gaara smoothly interjected looking up from his own bill "While my team may have caused significant damage, it was during your village's tournament. As per our treaties and agreements all damages incurred are covered by the hosting village... Suna has always done the same when it was our turn to host."
Breathing out a sigh of relief Naruto relaxed 'This is why it's always so important to keep someone smart like Gaara or Sakura-chan around!' he reminded himself looking at the number at the bottom of the bill again, that could have been bad!
"Oh of course Kazekage-sama" to Naruto's horror Tsunade's grin looked bigger if anything "And rest assured Konoha will fully cover any damage incurred to our facilities during the tournament, as we agreed... This bill however" she gestured again at the paper they were all holding "is for the damage caused by your little tournament after the exam had been officially declared over."
"Oh... Right." It wasn't everyday you saw Gaara caught off guard.
B just sighed.
Naruto thought for a moment then shrugged, grinning again as he pulled his new jacket on and zipped it up. A few months on instant Ramen? Higher mission load? Less savings? Whatever, he could deal with that, he was a Jonin.
"Worth it" he decided happily, his infectious joy giving the others no choice but to share it.
End Chapter 3.
One week after the end of the exams Naruto was walking the last few steps towards the Hyuuga clan territory. Tonight being the night he'd been invited as a guest of honour to a formal dinner to thank him and celebrate his promotion...
He tried hard to remember the quick overview on formalities the messenger had given him... 'Gott'a call Hinata-chan's dad Hiashi-sama or Hyuuga-sama... Uhh what else?' He was really regretting not putting more effort into paying attention to what the guy had said, a formal dinner, he was completely out of his element.
'At least Sakura-chan helped me look the part' he supposed, slightly wishing he was still wearing his new Jonin jacket, he'd barely taken it off since getting it, having even slept in it a few times. Still, he had to admit the kimono she'd helped him pick out hadn't been too bad and she'd barely complained when he'd insisted on the burnt orange one instead of the more subdued colour she'd recommended.
"Ah, Uzumaki-san. Just one moment" Lost in thought he looked up at that to see he'd arrived, one of the branch house members at the gate was already heading inside the estate to tell them he was here. Gulping slightly he pushed down his nervousness.
A minute later he was relieved to see the familiar smiling face of the Hyuuga heiress instead of one of the branch house members he'd been expecting to lead him inside "Good evening, Naruto-kun" Hinata greeted him softly.
"Ah hey! Hinata-chan!" throwing her a grateful smile he moved beside her and into the main compound. Even with all the time he'd spent with Hinata since the war he'd rarely been inside the compound itself, seeing the size of the place, he was glad he had someone to guide him around. He'd get lost in moments.
With Naruto looking around Hinata took it upon herself to offer some small talk "I-It's good to see you again" she offered "I haven't seen you since... ano... since your party... I'm glad to see you're okay Naruto-kun."
That made him laugh, the memories instantly driving away his nervousness. "Oh yeah! That was great! I.. Heh, I don't really remember any of it though"
His Jonin celebratory party had been, as far as he was concerned, a smashing success. All his friends had been there, everyone had been in a great mood... And with the spirit of celebration Kurama had even agreed to turn his healing powers off for a few hours, leading to his first ever experience getting drunk.
Unfortunately, so used to alcohol not affecting him and drinking with people who had a tolerance to it, Naruto had no idea of his limits and had been absolutely trashed in minutes, he'd promptly passed out within an hour.
"You... You were pretty wild that night Naruto-kun" Hinata smiled at the memory "You don't remember a thing?" she, probably more than anyone else had actually enjoyed Naruto's drunken antics. It turned out, predictably she thought, that rather than being an angry or weepy drunk alcohol simply removed what little inhibitions Naruto normally had, turning his innate Naruto-ness up to new levels.
Not something she'd want to see too often of course, it'd be too much even for her but, remembering one part of the night when she'd suddenly been ambushed and surrounded by three Kage Bunshin before they'd dragged her off to dance with them... She'd thoroughly enjoyed herself.
Realising she'd become slightly lightheaded blushing at that thought, Hinata forced herself to back to reality where Naruto was explaining the little bits and pieces he did remember or that other people had filled in over the next few days. Leading him towards where her family was waiting she made small talk and filled in a few tales of her own from the night.
"Uzumaki-san" Hanabi greeted before bowing low "I want to thank you for your assistance in the forest and congratulations on your promotion to Jonin"
Naruto smiled nervously at the clearly rehearsed greeting, even when expecting it, seeing the proud Mini-Hina bowing respectfully to him was a little surprising.
"Indeed. Congratulations Uzumaki-san. We have all seen great things from you, such a promotion is well deserved" Hiashi added his own thanks, saving him from having to give a reply straight away "And more importantly" at that he inclined his own head respectfully towards Naruto "You have my deepest thanks for your assistance towards my daughter. The Hyuuga owe you a great debt, a great many debts in fact" he added as he straightened back up.
"Ah, well, hah" Naruto floundered for a moment before remembering he'd rehearsed this! "Um... It was no problem at all. I'd always help any comrade and uh" he ad-libbed "I like Mini-Hina! She's a friend!" he smiled warmly at the girl in question as she winced at him using that nickname in front of her father "Anyway, uh" going back to what he'd planned he gave what he hoped was a polite bow "I wanted to thank you for having me tonight uh, Hyuuga-sama"
Hiashi blinked actaully caught off guard by the politeness... That was unexpected. He'd been warned by his retainers to expect an incredibly insulting nickname, especially considering how he talked to the Hokage.
Pride swelling slightly at that thought Hiashi waved his thanks off, directing them all in to the dining room.
With a seat prepared for him between Hinata and Hanabi the dinner itself ended up being a far more comfortable affair than Naruto had dared hope for.
Hanabi had been awkward around him at first, more polite and stiff than usual. Luckily after teasing her a bit and calling her Mini-Hina in front of the rest of her family she'd acted more like her normal self and he'd had fun just talking to her. She'd congratulated him again on becoming a Jonin and talked about her plans and training to take the test again in six months.
Hinata was always easy to talk to, the trick was getting her to talk back, especially in group settings. She clammed up a few times when he teased her too much and went bright red and ramrod straight when Hanabi cheekily pointed that out Hinata had been in charge of the seating and had organised to be sitting next to him. Still, she'd come a long way, shy or not he'd never forget the woman she was standing in front of him, facing down Madara and calling for the solidarity of the Shinobi Alliance.
The rest of the Hyuuga family he mostly only made small talk with or answered the questions they posed him. He didn't know any of them except that they were influential members from both the main and branch houses; he'd been pleasantly surprised to see that both houses ate together without distinction, wondering if that had always been the case.
Hiashi was the consummate host, engaging Naruto directly a few times but mostly directing him to conversations with other family members. While slightly awkward at first, it helped Naruto get comfortable with the conversations quickly, the only problem then being that Naruto had to struggle to keep calling him "Hyuuga-sama" having already decided on the perfect nickname for the man.
The food, despite not being ramen, was among the best he'd ever eaten and there seemed to be course after course! While he did his best to maintain the table manners that Sakura had so painfully drilled into him, he did still accidently make Hinata giggle a few times when he'd swallow a dumpling whole or piled his plate up for the fifth time.
So, all in all, Naruto considered it a successful night. He'd mostly been good about his manners; it didn't look like he'd horribly offended anyone at least. The food had been good and even though he didn't really know many of the people there they'd all been very polite to him, asking him to tell some of the best stories from his adventures. Aside from that he'd spent most of the evening talking to Hinata and thoroughly enjoying the warm feeling he got when he spent time with her lately.
Seeing that this was his first formal dinner, Naruto was caught off guard when after the final course was laid out, Hiashi called for everyone's attention, claiming he had an announcement to make.
"Uzumaki Naruto, I have invited you here ostensibly to give you the deepest thanks for your actions in saving the life of my youngest daughter" he paused for a moment as polite clapping rippled around the table leaving Naruto looking thoroughly embarrassed.
"However the truth of the matter is I have not asked you here just to thank you for that. You were instrumental in defeating the greatest threat the world has ever faced, you saved this village from Pain. For these actions alone we all owe you a great debt."
"However even more than that whether intentional or not, time and again you have rendered incredible assistance to our clan."
He gestured to Hanabi "You saved the life of my youngest daughter" Hanabi nodded at him, smiling.
He moved his hand over to Hinata "You gave my eldest the strength to stand in front of even the greatest threats" Hinata looked surprised at being mentioned but still held her father's gaze for a moment before turning to smile warmly at Naruto. "Your words, your actions, you helped me change" she whispered, proudly echoing her sentiments before the Chunin exam final, her confession in front of Pain, both so long ago now. Shy, gentle, kind, Hinata was all those things but she was not a timid little girl. She hadn't been for a very long time.
"And" at this his voice turned sombre "It cannot be forgotten the effect you had on young Neji" there was a moment of silence at that; Neji had been a profound loss to the clan. Especially after reconciling with the main house he had been one of the most beloved members, main or branch house, everyone liked Neji. He had been everything the Hyuuga were, everything they stood for, the perfect Hyuuga.
"I have never spoken of this" Hiashi continued, his voice heavy "however, during the fighting on the beach Madara's sacrilege forced me to face my own brother" everyone looked up at this, shocked from their own thoughts. "It pained him greatly having to fight me, and me to see him used like that... It was terrible... However, when he learned that his son and my daughter were fighting side by side. As comrades. As brother and sister. It gave him great peace. For your part in that Naruto, I thank you."
So saying he paused and bowed his head towards Naruto, while the members not stunned by his revelation once more gave polite applause. Naruto simply had no clue how to deal with any of this, simply sat there stunned. This was far more than he'd ever expected.
Hiashi straightened "It would not be too much I think, to say that you have in some ways changed the Hyuuga as a whole" There was a murmur of appreciation at that, but he moved on "So, know Naruto that for your actions you will always be welcome within our walls. We would be proud to consider you an ally and you will have our full support in any endeavour."
Letting the polite applause die one last time Hiashi surprised Naruto by suddenly grinning "And, as a token of our appreciation I would like to offer you a gift. One of the most precious treasures of the Hyuuga"
Naruto balked at this, so far out of his element now he just nodded. It didn't really matter what the gift was, to do anything but accept it would be rude.
The various Hyuuga clansmen nodded, apparently having already known about this.
Hinata gasped, guessing where her father was going.
Hanabi looked very curious.
"Naruto, I offer you Hanabi's hand in marriage"
"WHA!?" Naruto was panicking.
"FATHER!?" Hinata's face was ashen, she looked like she'd just been hit with a sledgehammer.
Hanabi just opened and closed her mouth wordlessly.
Naruto's mind reeled as he looked from a grinning Hiashi to a stricken Hinata to a shocked Hanabi. He was not prepared for this! He had to decline! But how!? He didn't know! The murmuring of approval and agreement or congratulations he was getting from the other clansmen across the table wasn't helping at all.
"Uh, huh, aaahhhh" he struggled for words.
"Father..." Hinata repeated again, looking at him desperately, close to tears now.
Hanabi still couldn't seem to get a word out, just looking between Naruto and Hinata. She didn't know quite what her feelings for Naruto were, he was like no other guy she'd knew. Strong, handsome, strong, kind, strong, funny... But she couldn't just marry the man her sister loved!... Could she?
Before Naruto could even begin to conjure up a reply the moment was suddenly broken by a blinding flash of light. Blinking he turned to the source to see one of the Hyuuga clansmen holding a camera
Dumbfounded he turned to the sound of the deep bellowing laughter and saw Hiashi... Hinata's father. The stoic leader of the Hyuuga. The epitome of all things Hyuuga... Splitting his sides laughing.
With that it was like a dam burst around the room, all the clansmen now joining in, some doubling over in laughter.
Seeing Hiashi laugh was surreal enough, seeing an entire room of Hyuuga laughing uproariously was unfathomable. Having no way to respond to this Naruto just stared dumbly, his only respite that Hinata and Hanabi didn't seem to be faring any better.
Finally getting control of himself Hiashi straightened "Ah... How very enjoyable...Well, I suppose I owe you an explanation... That was, a little experiment of mine"
"It's quite simple" he explained "You see, when I made to extend you an invitation I realised that I knew you only as an incredible fighter, our Jinchuriki and the Fourth's legacy. I knew of your actions to our clan and your considerable importance to my eldest daughter" he nodded a slight apology to a slowly recovering Hinata.
"But I realised I didn't know much at all about the man Uzumaki Naruto. So I have undertaken efforts to learn, to understand you. I have come to understand you are a man of peerless strength, of endless compassion and of fierce determination... However I also came to understand you are a great lover of pranks! And so, in an effort to further understand you, I thought I would play a small prank myself"
He smiled again, looking quite proud "My first ever prank actually. And, how was it Ko?" he turned to the Hyuuga Naruto had seen holding the camera.
"As expected, it was masterful Hiashi-sama" Ko answered "Simple, yet elegant. I was able to get a great picture of their reactions; no doubt it will be a memorable photo."
"Perfect. Perhaps I shall hang it on my wall to commemorate this" Hiashi looked thoughtful.
"Wow.." Naruto's head was spinning, finally catching up. The head of the Hyuuga clan had just pranked him... He had envisioned a hundred scenarios that could play out tonight. That was not one of them.
Later that night after the rest of the meal had wound down and after bidding goodnight to Hanabi, Hinata had offered to show him around the Hyuuga compound.
It was a warm moonlit night so they were spending the time simply strolling around, enjoying each other's company. Mostly they were walking in a comfortable silence, sometimes interrupted by Naruto joking or Hinata pointing out important clan locations.
"Sorry again about my father" Hinata quietly apologised thinking back to his actions once more "I just... I never would have expected something like that..."
Naruto laughed it off "that's what made it work I guess! He did a good job" he was suitably impressed with the man. "Someone like him doing something like that. Well! Just shows how influential I am!" he boasted
"Mhmm" Hinata quietly agreed, walking close to Naruto as she led him through the Hyuuga gardens.
Still, thinking of Hiashi also led him to think of the man's other words that night, of the favours Naruto had unthinkingly performed for the clan already. Unable to help himself he looked over at Hinata as she ran her hands across some of the flowers, thinking of the words said about her.
He'd given her strength; he'd helped her change herself.
He thought again of Pain, where Hinata had confirmed her changes, her determination, of Hinata's words to him. Of Hinata loving him.
He didn't think about it often enough he considered slightly guiltily. It was hard to accept, someone just loving him for being him, it was too easy. He always felt like he should have to earn her love... He hadn't been sure how to react to someone just loving him.
Even now he still struggled with the idea of someone loving him, a remainder of his young days where no-one had, where for more than 16 years he'd never been told he was loved a single time. It was a small part of him that he rarely acknowledged, but, on this quiet moonlit night, he didn't have any other distractions, no other worries, no other obligations. Just him and... Hinata.
Hinata. The woman who loved him, one of the nicest woman he'd ever met, who wanted to be with him... And still he had no answer for her.
He'd asked for time, he'd asked to get to know her. She'd happily agreed and it'd been great! He'd loved getting closer to her, before he'd even noticed she'd become one of his absolute most precious people.
Yet, did he love her? It would be so easy to just say yes, to just be with her. But he didn't know, he couldn't figure it out. He couldn't go out with her until he knew, he cared about her too much to do that to her. Hinata deserved someone who loved her.
When he was a kid he'd been sure he loved Sakura. Nowadays he couldn't tell if he loved her like that or if he just thought of her like a sister. It was all too confusing.
He'd wracked his brain over it time and again. He'd put it off time and again. He'd even asked Baa-chan about it once. Nothing had helped. He couldn't work it out.
"You're very quiet Naruto-kun? Are you okay?" Hinata's soft voice broke him out of her thoughts.
He looked over at her again, truly looking at her for the first time all night. Seeing the effort she'd gone to, dressing up for the occasion, for him. To thank him. To celebrate his promotion. It was just a light amount but he didn't know if he'd ever seen Hinata with makeup on before... He suddenly realised how beautiful she looked standing in the moonlight.
He'd always thought he was attracted to girls like Sakura. Someone who never doubted themselves. A strong willed, assertive woman. Someone who was in many ways as loud as him. Someone with a sexy body and no qualms about showing it off, who would wear tight shorts and a small vest.
And yet, looking at her smiling at him in the moonlight, it was impossible to deny his attraction to Hinata. Someone who'd been weak and hated themselves for it. Someone who'd struggled for acknowledgement, who'd worked hard. Probably the quietest kunoichi in the village, yet with an unbreaking will just the same. Someone who always wore layers and covered their body, who never dressed sexy... Yet, instead was beautiful.
Hinata just looked back at him, she wasn't sure what was going on but Naruto was standing there staring at her. Smiling at her... Her heart was beating like crazy, she didn't think Naruto had ever just looked at her like that.
And suddenly Naruto smiled his true smile. A Cheeky, almost rude grin.
Because Naruto had figured it out.
He'd spent so long asking himself the question, so long looking for answers, so long trying to think out an answer, so long wondering 'Did he love Hinata. Could he love Hinata?'
Over a year thinking, pondering, wondering, questioning... What a waste of time! That wasn't how he worked!
Naruto didn't think things out, he didn't act with his head!
He acted with his heart. His head was running itself in circles but he suddenly knew if he asked his heart would know the answer in an instant.
"Hey... Hinata..." he stepped closer to her
"Yes..." she looked up at him blushing deeply. He was moving closer to her, her emotions were running the gamut from excitement, to joy, to hope, even to fear of disappointment.
"..." He opened his mouth and searched for words, nothing came. He'd never been in this situation before, he had no idea what to say.
Naruto right to the core, was a man of action.
And so, without a word, he cupped her face in his hands, leant down and brought his lips to hers.
It was a brief kiss, just a moment. His first ever with a girl. Her first ever.
And in that moment Naruto realised what he should have known so long ago, that the warm feeling he got from being with Hinata wasn't the feeling of being loved. It was the feeling of loving.
"I'm such a fool" he whispered starting to lean in again.
Hinata didn't care, she was already wrapping her arms around him, pulling him into her this time.
A/N: Wow, so buying Dark Souls while halfway through this chapter was a terrible idea. I wanted to get this out by Saturday morning but I still hadn't finished by Friday evening.
So I've been up all night now finishing the story! I finished writing it by 7am and finished editing it by midday. So, wow. That's a long night spent writing.
Regardless, hope everyone enjoyed the ride!
Let me just say, OH GOD I AM NEVER WRITING KILLER B AGAIN. Or if I do, he's going to have strained his voice and be unable to speak.
I'm sure there's a trick to it or something but goddamn he is hard to write. Hope no-one cringed too badly at the rhymes I was able to come up with.
Other than that, it's funny how much the story changed as I planned it out. Originally it was going to be completely sans pairings, then the newer chapters with Hinata came out. She was already my favourite kunoichi, after that I to give her something! So I decided to just imply a NaruHina pairing in the first Omake... But then I gave her a few scenes in the story too and before I knew it she and Hanabi had a large part in the whole enterprise and two Omakes!
I also ended up breaking my own decision and including a team of "Super Genin" just because I thought it'd be a laugh to see the standard OC Stupidly powerful Genin team get absolutely stomped.
If you were worried about that at all, I'm very very conservative when it comes to OC's, I put literally zero effort in any of them. Their names (they do have names actually, I just never got to use them) were from hitting a "Random Japanese name generator" three times and their descriptions were from opening up a handful of images from a "Naruto OC" google image search then stealing bits and pieces from that.
I just hate most OC's in general. I hate how every OC has the Rasengan (how?), every one of them has Nature manipulation (even though it's meant to be a rare skill), every one of them has a tonne of Jutsu even though most characters (especially Genin) only know a handful and every one of them has a ridiculously OP bloodline. So writing a team that hits some of those points and got stomped amused me.
As for the Hanabi love interest red herring, I sort'a wanted to do more with that. Mostly I wanted it to just be a silly childish crush for her. She's grown up in a house where Power and Strength are important ("The Hyuuga are Konoha's strongest!") and to her seeing someone more powerful than even her father, nevermind him being so different from any of the other men she interacts with, being Familiar, friendly, etc just took her by surprise and enthralled her slightly.
Eventually there just wasn't really a good space to really get into it. Perhaps I'll explore that in another story!