Chapter 11

Tsunade was stunned, to say the very least. This boy, Gaara, had shown up out of nowhere just now, and was telling her that their ally, the Sand, had an alliance with the Sound village, and the two were planning to betray the Leaf village during the Chunin Exam Finals. But wait...

"How can I trust this information?" she asked, her suspicion aroused. "After all, what better way to further this plan than for you three to gain my trust, if the plan in fact exists, and then have you three betray that trust?" Tsunade knew that would be a little ridiculous, but she wasn't going to take any chances.

Temari sighed. "If we were going to continue with the plan, I assure you we wouldn't be here. In point of fact, we are the children of the Kazekage, that's how we know of this plan, as well as playing key roles in it. Specifically Gaara here." As she spoke, she indicated her youngest sibling.

Tsunade linked the fingers of her hands together and rested her chin on them. "All right, you made your point. Now, you are going against your own village in doing this. Why?" she asked, looking the three before her over carefully.

Gaara stepped forward a little. "I spoke with one of your ninja," he said. "His name is Naruto Uzumaki. He is like me, a Jinchuuriki. I know he is more powerful than I, and he could have killed me, but he allowed me to live. I intend to repay his mercy, for one thing. For another, I have come to the conclusion that our father, the Kazekage, is no longer acting in the best interests of our village. As such, we intend to see to it that our alliance with the Sound is ended, and do what we can to help you."

Tsunade didn't need much skill at reading people to know Gaara spoke the truth. She surmised that Gaara's talk with Naruto had something to do with changing the boy, who she knew was utterly merciless before. She sighed again; this was quite a problem. "All right, you three," she said to them. "As Hokage, I will accept your aid and any information you can give me will help. However, what is it you want in return?"

Gaara gave a small smile. "I would like to make a selfish request, Lady Hokage," he said. Tsunade raised one eyebrow to let him know to continue. "Once this fiasco is concluded, I would like to hire Naruto and his team for an extended period of time, probably close to a year, to advise me in setting up a new council and so on in Suna."

Tsunade wasn't expecting that. "You believe you will be named Kazekage?" she asked the boy.

Gaara sighed. "There is no one in my village more powerful than myself. Also, no one would dare challenge me. As such, there is no one else to take the position besides me," he said, his voice filled with pride and dread simultaneously. "I would, of course, pay the team for their services."

"All right," Tsunade answered, still not totally sure where that request had come from, but glad it wasn't something worse. "Anything else you may want?" she asked. The three shook their heads. "All right then. Now, what can you tell me?"

Naruto

As Tsunade was being briefed on the Sand and Sound's plans, Naruto was waking up. He found himself enfolded in Hinata's arms; she seemed to be holding him a bit closer than normal. Not that he minded, of course. He rubbed her back softly as he laid there in her arms, careful not to wake her. He had been doing this for about ten minutes when the indigo-haired beauty in his arms stirred.

"N-Naruto?" she asked, stuttering slightly in her half-awake state.

"I'm here, Hinata," he answered her. He chuckled as she rubbed her eyes, waking up slowly.

"W-Where am I?" she asked. Naruto slowly realized what was happening. Or so he thought, anyway.

"You're at home, Hinata. Where else would you be?" he told her, thinking that would bring her out of whatever had her so befuddled.

Hinata looked around, looked at Naruto, saw he was in his pajamas, noticed it was his room she was in, blushed deeply, then did something she hadn't done in a week or more now. She fainted.

Naruto couldn't help it. Her face as she looked around, all confused like that, was simply adorable. Then her fainting like that. It was just too cute. He burst out laughing. By the time Hinata awoke five minutes later, he was holding his sides and laughing so hard he was crying.

"N-Naruto, w-what is s-so f-funny?" Hinata asked, wondering if her crush had totally lost it.

Naruto, hearing the worry in her voice, looked at Hinata, wondering what was wrong. "What do you mean, Hinata? You're joking, right? I mean, you've been here for some time now, I don't know where else you think you would be," he said, his voice worried.

"I should be at home, Naruto! What in the world do you mean I've been here for some time now?" she burst out, becoming rather sure now that Naruto had totally lost it.

Naruto finally realized what was going on, or at least somewhat. "What's the last thing you remember, Hinata?" he asked her.

"I remember the day before the second stage of the Chunin Exams. We need to get to the Forty-fourth Training Ground, don't we?" she said.

Naruto chuckled. "Hinata, look at your left hand," he told her.

Hinata did as she was told, and she saw a ring on her left ring finger. It dawned on her; everything, that "dream" she'd been having all night, wasn't a dream at all. It was real! She fainted again.

Naruto chuckled at her antics, then pulled her close and held her to him, kissing her head gently, lovingly as he did. He looked over at his calender, reminding himself that the finals were just days away now. He sighed, hoping things would go all right.

After Hinata woke up again, she remembered that her assumed "dream" had been no such thing, but real events, and she was back to herself. Her stuttering and fainting had passed. Naruto smiled at her; she blushed, but smiled back.

About an hour later, the young couple had gotten ready for their day and left their apartment. They went immediately to the training field they always used. Naruto almost immediately began forming his Wind Style Rasengan. He was trying now to do something more with it. He wanted to be able to throw the Rasengan. He could throw the Rasenshuriken, yes, but that took longer time and more chakra to form, so he was trying to learn to throw the normal Rasengan.

It took him about an hour, but after trying dozens of times, he had figured out what the problem was: he couldn't keep a steady flow of chakra in the sphere when it left his hand. The issue was that he had no idea how to fix that.

Hinata, meanwhile, was practicing her Sixty-Four Palms. She had it pretty much mastered, now all she had to do was master the next step, the One-Hundred-Twenty-Eight Palms. She doubted she could get it ready anywhere near in time for the Finals, but still, the more progress she made now, the better. By the time Naruto had given up on throwing the Rasengan for the time being, Hinata had worn herself out; she was almost out of chakra. Naruto, of course, still had tons of chakra, but he sat down with Hinata when she took her break.

"What are you working on over there, Naruto?" she asked him.

"I'm trying to learn to throw the Rasengan. I just can't keep a steady flow of chakra in it once I throw it," he explained. "And there's not much I can do about it, either." He shrugged. "Not that it matters, really. I mean, I'm pretty good at getting in close to hit people with it if I need to, so I don't really need to throw it." He laughed at himself at that. "I just think it'd be cool, that's all."

Hinata giggled. "It would be cool. Shouldn't you be working on getting ready for the Finals, though?" she asked, a little worried.

Naruto raised one eyebrow at her. "Hinata, do you really think I need to train for that?"

She thought about that a moment. He did have a point. "Well, no, I guess not."

He smiled at her. He leaned down and kissed her gently, which she was more than happy to return. Pulling back, Naruto looked at Hinata, wondering what he'd done to deserve such a wonderful girl. He shook his head at himself, telling himself it didn't matter, he was just happy she was his.

Tsunade

A few hours later, Tsunade sent out ANBU to gather everyone who would be participating in the Chunin Exam Finals, as well as all their senseis. She had been briefed on the details of the plans for the invasion, and now she needed her ninja. She also sent one ANBU to retrieve Sarutobi; she felt she'd need him as well. Within minutes, her office was filled to capacity. Naruto, Hinata, Gaara, Lee, Shikamaru, Temari, Kankuro, Shino, and Sasuke were in the room, most of them looking confused. Jiraiya, Guy, Kakashi, Asuma, and Kurenai had come in moments after their students. The Sand siblings, naturally, bore looks of determination rather than confusion, but the others all looked lost, wondering why they were there. After a few moments, Sarutobi entered the room, and Tsunade called the meeting to order.

"All right, everyone, we have a situation here," Tsunade said. "I've been told by Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro here that we are going to be betrayed. Their village has made an alliance with the Sound village, and they intend to attack us during the Chunin Exam Finals."

As she expected, everyone in the room except the Sand siblings, Naruto, Hinata, and Shino yelled out, "WHAT?" She was a little surprised Naruto and Hinata didn't react, but didn't say anything about it.

"You heard me," she said, giving them all a glare to let them know to shut up and listen. They did. "Now, since we have this information, we can plan accordingly. And from what they've told me, I believe the leader of the Sound village to be Orochimaru. So we must plan for that as well."

Shikamaru stepped forward, surprising everyone except Asuma, who knew the boy to be a genius. "Please, Lady Hokage, allow me," he said. Everyone began to listen to him. "First, I need to know who will be available for this operation."

Shikamaru talked long into the night that night. By the time everyone went home, it was well after dawn, but they had a solid, workable plan in place, and everyone knew their part in it. They only had two days left before the Finals started, and they needed rest.

So, the group went their separate ways and rested for the following two days. Hinata went to the Hyuga compound the day before the Finals and spoke to Hiashi about his part in their plan. He agreed to do what was required of him.

Shikamaru spoke to his father about his part; he agreed and spent the final day with his team, going over the plan with them and fulfilling their tradition of drinking together the night before a battle. Lee and Guy trained a little bit, but for them, they did next to nothing.

Asuma sharpened his chakra knives, making sure they'd be ready for the battle. Jiraiya spent his day peeping on the bathhouse, as usual, while Kurenai walked around the village, simply savoring the sights and sounds she had taken for granted for so long. Kakashi read as much as he could of his copy of Make-Out Paradise.

All too soon for any of their likings, the Finals had come. They were ready, yes, but not a single Konoha ninja was looking forward to the battle they knew was to come that day. Most of them outright dreaded it, while a very few were resigned to it, but none were looking forward to it.

Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end, and they all knew they would see the end of their days of peace on this day. All of the finalists filed into the Chunin Exam Stadium; they were all rather subdued. The proctor for the Finals showed the eight participants a bracket showing who each one would be fighting. The first match was Naruto vs. Sasuke.

"Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha, stay here. The rest of you, head up to the stands and wait your turn," he said. Naruto and Sasuke stood in front of one another, Naruto's eyes flashing with excitement at being able to battle Sasuke at long last. Sasuke's eyes showed hatred for the blond in front of him. The proctor stood between the two. He said a single sentence. Everyone who knew what was going on felt his statement was the sealing of their fate. He said, "Let the Final Tournament of the Chunin Exams...BEGIN!"

Author Note: This chapter was just too much of a pain to write, so I kept it short. The next chapter will cover the first round battles of the Finals, so it will probably be pretty long to make up for this one being so short. Sorry, and I hope you enjoyed it anyway.