... I AM SO STUPID! There was somthing I completely ignored that happened in previous chapters... I'll fix it after school...this is what happens when you don't write on the story for two months...


Prelims Part 3

Sakura could see Ino hesitate a bit as she descended the stairs to the arena. Gaara was already there, he had used his sand to teleport himself downward. Sakura couldn't imagine what was going through Ino's head, was she going to give up when she realized how strong Gaara was?

She hoped so.

-

Ino wanted to impress Sasuke-kun and outdo Sakura, but at what cost? She knew this genin was strong, if his teammates were anything like him. And some small part of her was telling her to quit before something bad happened, but she ignored it. She would at least give the match a try, if she could capture the sand-nin—Gaara?—in a Shintenshin no Jutsu, she would probably be able to win.

If, could, and probably. She was unsure of herself against this opponent. More than unsure of herself, she was afraid. From the uneasy looks that Team Eight gave the Suna team, to the fact that Sakura had warned her to give up as she passed, she wasn't so sure that she was making the right choice to fight him.

-

Sakura ran a hand through her pink hair as the match began, something she rarely did when around her teammates. She was worried, and she was trying to figure out if there was any way that she could end the match between the genin. She had warned Ino not to do it, but she hadn't exactly expected that to work. Sasuke didn't have time to try to get Ino to back out…

Just as she turned to ask Kakashi-sensei to get Ino out of there, the match began.

-

Ino didn't even wait for the match to officially begin before readying herself to fight Gaara—readying herself for the use of her family's jutsu. As soon as 'begin' left the examiner's lips, Ino did the jutsu, hoping to catch the sand-nin off guard.

-

She did. Yamanaka Ino collapsed, and Gaara seemed to stiffen, then relax. That wasn't a bad sign, but it wasn't a good sign either. Sakura watched for a full minute before either the sand-nin or Ino did anything. Gaara seemed to snap out of some kind of daze…

… And Ino started to scream.

-

Kakashi didn't even need Sakura's prompting to jump down and end the match. As soon as he saw the sand start to move, he knew what Gaara was going to do by the descriptions of his students and some of the jounin that had been in the Forest of Death. He had no idea what effect Gaara—with the demon inside him—would have on the Yamanaka, and he mentally slapped himself for not stopping the fight sooner.

As he jumped down, so did Gai. They both stood in front of Ino, Kakashi locking gazes with the sand-nin, which took a surprising amount of effort. The boy finally spoke when Gai picked up Ino and put her in the care of the medic-nin, where the calmed down and seemed to be sleeping, "Why wouldn't you let me kill her?" He asked.

You said Naruto could beat this person?! I might even be hard-pressed to beat him…

Gaara barely waited for an answer, instead turning and walking back up the stairs to his team, not saying a word to them and his teammates not saying anything to him. They all seemed unfazed.

-

Kakashi-sensei didn't say anything when he got back to where Team Seven were stationed, and he didn't need too. Naruto was just staring at the sand-nin, and Sakura seemed very worried, almost scared, about what will happen to Ino. Sasuke was also looking towards Gaara, but not with nearly as much hate and killer intent in his gaze as Naruto. Sasuke was trying to figure out more about the sand-nin, knowing that there was a great chance that this person would meet one of his teammates in the next rounds.

Nara Shikamaru vs. Aburame Shino

-

Shikamaru slowly walked down the stairs to his match—one I'll probably lose—he thought, barely listening when Hayate called for the match to start. He wasn't paying much attention to his opponent either, who was no doubt preparing to fight him. What he was really doing was thinking up a strategy, not like it would help much. As far as he could tell, the best he could hope for was a tie.

His Kagemane no Jutsu wouldn't be able to stop the bugs, and the Kikai would drain off his chakra before Shikamaru could knock Shino out and win the match. A tie wasn't enough to fight the Aburame for, in his opinion. And, so far, Shikamaru could only think of several strategies that would even end in a tie, the rest would end in failure. Oh well… how troublesome…

"I give up." Shikamaru said, raising his hand in surrender.

-

"Hey… why'd you do that, Shikamaru?! Why didn't you even try to fight him?" Naruto asked as the genin passed, apparently disappointed in the fact that Shikamaru decided to give up before he could see any fighting at all, "This fight and the last one have been boring—why can't they pair people up more evenly so we can see them fight!?" He muttered as he turned back to the rest of his team.

Sakura was thinking about the last match and the one before it too, but for another reason than Naruto. Shikamaru won't advance… that means that he won't become a chunnin… almost everything changes… She wasn't as worried about that match—she was there to change things, and maybe Shikamaru will find some other way to become a chunnin. What she was really worried about was the fact that Ino looked like she was in a coma when the medic-nin took her out of the prelim room.

She had an Idea what happened to Ino, and was glad that Kakashi-sensei and Gai-sensei had interrupted the fight before Gaara had time to crush the Yamanaka, but the only problem was she didn't think anyone—other than her, some of the sand-nin, and a few of the sound-nin—even suspected what had happened, and because of that, they might not be able to wake Ino up.

Sakura was so troubled by her thoughts; she missed the start of the next match... which was pretty much the end of the next match, as well.

-

Lee immediately recognized his opponent—it was one of the three that he had fought in the Forest of Death. Lee wasn't one to get angry with people, but he wasted no time beating this 'Zaku' person. It was pretty easy to beat him, too. All the spandex-clad genin had to do was punch the sound-nin a couple of times, and the match was declared won.

-

"Why aren't there any good fights?… all we have left is that Hyuuga over there, and that weird ninja over there… the one that's teammates with the one you fought, Sakura-chan." Naruto said, shifting from foot to foot in impatience. "I can't wait to see what happens after the preliminaries. I wonder who I'll be fighting."

"You might end up fighting me." Sasuke said, leaning over the railing, waiting for the match to begin.

"Then I can't wait!" Naruto said, loud enough to earn a glance from the competitors below.

Hayate ignored the genin's outburst from above, "Begin."

-

A few Jyuuken strikes… Neji thought, observing his opponent in the few moments before the match began. He had no idea what this genin's particular talent was, but he could find his opponent's tenketsu (sp?) points pretty easily. Before the match even began, Neji had his Byakugan activated for the fight ahead.

-

Sakura was the only one on Team Eight not to be even slightly caught off guard when Neji's opponent suddenly grew longer and much more flexible than usual. Naruto muttered something about 'good fights' and Sasuke leaned a little farther over the rail in interest. The sound-nin (who everyone thought was loyal to Konoha) sped forward, only to suddenly stop when Neji seemingly just touched his opponent on one of his elongated arms. Then Neji struck again, and again, and again at the genin, who had now stopped his advance and was about to jump backward.

When the sound-nin jumped back, most of him went back to his original size. Several spots along his arms remained elongated—but now also limp—as well as his hands, making him look deformed, even when he wasn't using his jutsu. "What did you do to my arms!?" He demanded, but the Hyuuga didn't reply.

That's when the sound-nin made the fatal mistake of going back into close combat with Neji, trying to strangle him without the use of his arms.

A couple more Jyuuken strikes from Neji, and the sound-nin was knocked out. The last of the preliminary fights was over.

-

As Team Seven left the tower and started for their homes, Kakashi stopped and turned to Sakura. "I'm going to try and see if I can seal that thing Orochimaru put on Sasuke's arm." He said simply, and, motioning for Sasuke to follow him, took off in another direction.

-

"You wanted to talk to me?" Sakura asked, interrupting the silence that had dragged on since Kakashi-sensei left with Sasuke to try and see if he could seal Orochimaru's Curse Seal. Naruto paused, and then turned into an apartment building, expecting Sakura to follow. He then led the way to his own apartment and closed the door as soon as Sakura entered.

"Well?" The pink-haired kunoichi asked. I shouldn't answer any questions…

"Kyuubi." Naruto said after a moment, staring at the ground, "I heard you talking about it… so… you know?" It took Sakura a moment to process what he said, and what exactly he was talking about, and when he could've overheard her. Of course, the ramen… right before the forest of death! No wonder…

Sakura didn't reply for a moment, thinking about what she would say as an answer, "Hai, I know." She finally responded, "And I don't hate you for it, either. The other villager's problem is that they think you are the Kyuubi, not just its jailor. There's a difference, obviously. You were the one that told me about it, too."

"I… know that—about the villagers." Naruto replied, "And you don't care?" He looked up, and then added, "I never put you in any danger?"

Sakura didn't reply immediately… his own death was in part caused by Kyuubi, and several times Sakura had been caught in a jutsu on accident when Naruto was drawing on the extra chakra, but that was more of her fault. She had known better, and it never had hurt her much, actually, she usually was hurt more in battle than getting caught on the edge of a jutsu.

"Not really…" She said, then turned and started to leave, "But shouldn't we be training for the third exam? I know we have a lot of time, but… every contestant has to train during this time to get the upper hand! And, so that I can start training early, I'm going home and then to bed." She hoped Naruto would get the hint and not ask her any more questions, she didn't really want to answer anything else… she didn't want Naruto to do anything stupid because of something she told him.

-

Sakura left her blond teammate behind as she walked slowly to her house. She really hadn't expected that Naruto overheard that much of the conversation between her and Kakashi at Ichiraku's, but, then again, she hadn't expected to tell her teammates about her… memories until after the exams. Nothing seemed to be going the way she had expected it too.

Reaching her house, she entered, answering her mom's worried questions—"Where have you been? Are you hurt? Was that young Uchiha hurt? What's wrong, sweetie, don't you want to tell me what happened? Did you pass the exam?"—and then climbing up to her small bedroom on the second floor.

She locked the door behind her, and then pulled out the piece of paper she had received shortly after the last preliminary match. She also had Sasuke's with her, and would bring it to him later. Right now, though, Sakura reread the matchups for what seemed like the hundredth time, struck, once again, by how much a couple of the—supposedly random—pairings were like previous matchups.

Sakura vs. Dosu

Kiba vs. Shino

Sasuke vs. Temari

Naruto vs. Neji

Lee vs. Gaara

Lee verses Gaara… the one that bothered her the most. There was a chance that the Sound attack would start before the fight was finished, and Lee would be an asset to the Konoha forces. On the other hand, however, there was also the possibility that the result of the fight would be like—or even worse than—the first Lee and Gaara match.

Naruto verses Neji and Sasuke verses Temari didn't really bother her—Naruto had proved that he could beat the Hyuuga prodigy before, and Sasuke wouldn't be in any fatal danger in his fight. Kiba and Shino would never fatally—or even seriously—injure each other, and she wasn't concerned at all about her own fight—Dosu wasn't exactly a threat.

My real problem is, however, she thought as she put down the paper, what the Hokage will think when I tell him about the Sound and Sand invasion.


A/N: Um… the fights were extremely hard to write, despite the fact that they weren't very… ah… fightsy. I hope you like it…

Ja ne

Moonlit Dawn