Alice panted loudly, bent over double as she glared resentfully at the woman in front of her; not really resenting her, just what she embodied.

"Look, Alice, you're tired.' said the dark haired woman with an expression which was somehow anxious and bored at the same time. 'You're not going to accomplish anything now." Polly smiled sympathetically. Behind her sensei, Alice saw Chris and Sketch exchanging a look before Sketch glanced at his watch. The day had been wasted for everyone: they had all been helping her train and she hadn't achieved anything.

"Polly sensei has promised to buy us all ramen for dinner!' said Chris with a friendly smile at the worn out girl. 'You can't turn that down!!" he added with a chuckle which Sketch joined in with. Alice let her head flop onto her chest and stood up straight, she felt bad for keeping them here even though they weren't doing anything.

"Just regular ramen! I'm not made of money, you know?!' retorted the jounin with a giggle. 'Only I may have the expensive stuff!"

As her other team mates started to retaliate in mock anger the young girl phased out, dwelling on yet another day she had wasted on herself rather than helping the others train. The second Chuunin exam had been gruelling enough as it was and Alice was certain she had only managed to scrape through that one thanks to Sketch and Chris. Now that the third exam was on the way she felt sure she was going to be destroyed. She was fighting Sakura Haruno in the first round and having heard that she was Tsunade's student was feeling terribly nervous. She knew she should consider herself lucky though, she hadn't been put up against Rock Lee or many of the other competitors, but having failed to master her and Polly's clans Kekkai Genkai after several years of practice, she couldn't help but feel useless.

"Do you think there's an Ichiraku here?' asked Chris, cutting into Alice's mini universe of self pity and guilt. 'I mean I haven't seen one or anything but maybe if we searched long enough…" he left the question hanging.

"I think there's only one Ichiraku!' answered Sketch with a sigh. 'Noone could imitate his ramen." there was a silence as everyone dwelt on the ramen situation in the Village Hidden in the Sand where the Chuunin exams were taking place this time around. They'd been away from home for over a month now and were missing the lush green forests around Konoha.

"well, no point standing around here!' said Polly with an enthusiastic smile, although the bags under her eyes told a different story. 'Not much to look at around here is there?' she added looking around at the rocky crevice they had discovered and bagged for their training area. There were several cracked rocks and a couple of completely decimated ones which were mostly where Polly had given an example to Alice. 'Let's at least go back to the village and see what we can find."

Once they were inside the village walls, all searching vaguely for a ramen restaurant, the silence was broken.

"Hey, Alice!' came a voice from away to their left as they meandered across a crossroads. Alice, who was a couple of moody steps behind the others, glanced up and immediately blushed. Polly, Chris and Sketch leaned back to see who it was. 'Hey, I haven't seen you around! Where have you been?"

"Oh, Hi Kiba! I- I've been training all day.' she replied shyly, her blush deepening to a deep shade of beetroot as she looked at her feet. 'What about you?"

"Akamaru and I were training too.' he answered patting the large dog beside him. Akamaru seemed to smile as he glanced up at his master. 'well I should… be getting going.' he continued after an awkward pause. 'See you round!" he called over his shoulder as he started back down the street he had come from. Akamaru barked happily.

"Yeah! See you later!" cried Alice after him a little to enthusiastically, making Polly give her other students a knowing smirk.

"So… looks like you're getting kinda close to Kiba, huh?' said the sensei once they had taken up their almost aimless meandering. 'See you later, huh?" She grinned down at the young girl, shooting a wink at Sketch. Alice blushed furiously and glared at the ground.

"He's only being nice to me because we're from the same village!' she retorted angrily, not looking up. Chris put a hand on her shoulder and tried to smile at her but she looked away, her blush increasing. 'Besides, am I not allowed to have my own friends now??"

"We never said that, Alice.' said Sketch, concerned for his team mate and friends welfare. 'What's up with you lately?"

"Nothing's up! I haven't changed!' said Alice finally looking up at them with a furious frown. 'You're the ones who have all changed! Not me!!' There was an uncomfortable pause. 'I'm not hungry." she said quietly, whereupon she turned on her heal and stormed off. Chris made a move to follow her but Polly put a hand on his shoulder.

"There's no use talking to her now.' she said looking down at him soothingly. 'She won't listen to anyone. Believe me, I've been there more than once!' she added with a smile. 'I'll talk to her later."

"Why is she so uptight lately?" asked Chris, looking up at his sensei anxiously.

"She's angry with herself.' answered Polly simply. 'We'll do some training with you two tomorrow, okay?' the two young men nodded and glanced after Alice again who had by now disappeared around a sandy corner. 'Come on, that promised meal has an expiry date!!" She added with a grin, making a move to continue down the road. Chris stood for another moment, gazing after Alice with a slightly worried sigh before heading after them.

Polly (c) ninja-bitch

Alice (c) crazy-lil-chipmunk

Chris (c) Chris Lavigne

Sketch (c) Stephen Falvey

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written by ninja-bitch; edited by crazy-lil-chipmunk, Chris Lavigne and Stephen Falvey.