Holy shit. I actually finished this chapter... O.O Although it seems pretty dis-jointed to me. It doesn't flow nearly as well as I wish it would, especially the last bit...

Oh well, at least we're getting somewhere, right? Right...

Chapter Thirteen

One Month to Train

-One Week Later-

Kaito grunted as he hit the ground, rolling into a crouch and narrowly avoiding the ten kunai Sasuke sent at him. Within milliseconds the Uchiha appeared in front of him, a cool katana blade pressed against the younger boy's throat.

"You'll have to be faster if you want to beat that Amegakure ninja." Was all Sasuke said, re-sheathing his katana in one fluid motion. Kaito stood slowly, panting and wiping sweat from his green eyes, which were dull with exhaustion.

"He's only a genin..." The silver-haired boy murmured, leaning against a tree and watching Sasuke. Even as he said this, we knew it wasn't true. Yuudai had nearly crushed Kenta in the pre-lims, and Kaito had a feeling he had been holding back. It was worrying.

"You should never underestimate your opponent." Sasuke stated coldly. Kaito frowned, dropping his gaze to the grass.

"No need to bite my head off." He grumbled. Sasuke made a low growling sound in the back of his throat.

"If you don't take this seriously, I'm not going to continue to train you. I have better things to do than babysitting you." He snarled, glaring viciously at Kaito. Kaito crossed his arms and glared back, unflinching.

"Well sorry, but I just don't see how you beating the crap out of me is helping." He retorted. Sasuke huffed and rolled his eyes.

"You don't notice it, but you're slowly improving your speed and strength as we spar. You're a pretty strong kid, so the change isn't going to come as quickly as you'd like. You have to be patient." Kaito was slightly surprised, he hadn't expected that. Sasuke's gaze locked with his. "Trust me."

"Yeah, improving my speed and strength is good and all, but I seriously doubt that's all I'll need to pass the exam." Kaito replied. Sasuke sighed.

"I didn't want to have to do this... But I guess I can teach you a new technique." He relented. Kaito's eyes narrowed.

"What kind of technique?"

...

"Never underestimate your opponent, no matter how small they may seem." Shino said calmly, standing in front of Susumu. Kiba and Akamaru sat beside him, looking bored.

"And remember, the weaker you are, the louder you bark." Kiba added, staring at the sky. Shino nodded in agreement. Susumu looked between them.

"What are you two talking about?" He asked. Kiba and Shino exchanged a glance and sighed in unison.

"Never mind."

...

"Come on, Aeri, you can do better than that." Temari yelled, waving her fan. The sharp wind cut down the tree Aeri had been perched in and the girl flipped to the ground, landing lightly in a crouch. She straightened up and charged at Temari, swinging her staff. Temari closed her fan and blocked the attack before swinging her weapon at Aeri. It tore through her torso and the pale girl turned to smoke.

Temari turned around, just in time to dodge a staff-swipe to her head. Aeri jumped back, making handsigns.

"Blade of Wind." Aeri murmured. An invisible blade of wind materialized on her hand. She seemed to karate chop the air in front of her, sending a thin blade of wind at Temari.

There was the slightest slicing sound.

Temari quickly jumped to the side, barely dodging the wind blade. Temari nodded in approval as the blade took down a few trees.

"Um... Temari-sensei?" Aeri murmured, putting away her staff. Temari folded her fan and eyed her student with curiosity.

"Yes?" She prodded.

"My... My opponent, Mai Kamaya. She has a very unusual jutsu. I believe it is a kekkei genkai, from what I gather... It recalls memories of pain..." Aeri trailed off, fidgeting slightly. Temari's expression softened.

'Of course, Aeri hasn't had the best childhood... I had almost forgotten.' She thought absently.

"I'm sure you'll be fine. Pain you've already lived through can't kill you." She said quietly, laying a comforting hand on the short girl's shoulder.

"Right. Thank you, Temari-sensei." Aeri said curtly, her voice tight. Temari nodded to herself.

"Let's get started."

...

Yoshino dodged the shadows that sprung at him gracefully. It wasn't really hard. In fact, it was kind of boring. The man that Temari had talked into training him did not seem entirely motivated, to say the least. Suddenly the shadows stopped.

"That's probably enough for today. I have a friend who is going to train with us tomorrow. He specializes in taijutsu." Shikamaru said, lazily. Yoshino scowled under his mask.

"We haven't done much." He grunted. Shikamaru shrugged in a slightly helpless fashion.

"To be honest, I'm not the best person to be teaching you, that's why I asked Lee to help. I only agreed to training you because Temari wouldn't leave me alone." He murmured.

"Lee? Isn't that the green spandex wearing boy who is part of the Jonin team watching over Gaara and Ayaka?" Yoshino asked, stretching. Shikamaru nodded, smirking.

"Yeah, that'd be him. I'm going to be taking his place on the Kazekage's guard team so he can train you." He replied. Yoshino nodded.

"Interesting. Alright."

...

Mayu stood in front of Kurenai, eyeing the older genjutsu specialist warily.

"So you're facing Haruna Inuzuka?" Kurenai asked. Mayu nodded.

"Yes." She replied quietly.

"I think I know just the genjutsu." Kurenai said, pushing back a lock of hair. "It should be perfect, if she's anything like the Inuzuka I'm acquainted with."

...

"How is all your training going?" Daisuke asked. The four teams from Konoha sat in a field as the sunset.

"Anko is a psychopath." Mai stated, sounding none-too-thrilled. Hanako smiled.

"She's not that bad, once you get to know her." She said. Ikari and Hanabi nodded in agreement.

"You're her genin team, I think she's obligated to tone down her insanity with you guys." Moegi commented.

"It can't be that bad, training with her?" Chihiro commented lightly. Mai glared icily at him.

"She bit me." The white haired girl hissed, her eyes flashing red. Chihiro's usual easy grin faltered slightly in fear.

"Well, my training went well." Shiori spoke up. "Saitoh-sensei is completely sane."

"Lucky you." Mai grumbled.

"I'm training with my father." Hanabi murmured, colourlessly as usual. "He is quite competent."

"Yeah, when you get past the fact that he's a total douche." Ikari mumbled. Hanabi gave him a slightly reprimanding glare, but did not defend Hiashi.

"I'm training with my family too. My mom, actually." Haruna spoke up, trying to defuse the tension.

"I'm training with my uncle. He's way better than Ebisu-sensei." Konohamaru stated.

"You probably shouldn't insult our sensei..." Udon muttered. Konohamaru shrugged.

"He's a total moron." He said. Udon sighed.

"My training is going well." Daisuke cut in smoothly, smiling. "Hana-sensei says my speed is improving." Hanabi gave Daisuke, her opponent for the third stage of the exams, a sidelong glance.

"Who is everyone facing, anyway?" Sora asked, laying back in the grass.

"I've got that Amegakure genin..." Konohamaru paused to think of the name. "Kage Shimizu."

"I'm facing the genjutsu girl from Suna, Mayu." Haruna spoke up cheerfully.

"I'm fighting the cocky one from Suna, Sus... Som..." Shiori paused. "You know, the pervy one."

"Susumu." Hanako offered. Shiori nodded her head.

"Yeah, that guy!" She agreed.

"I'm fighting the blind girl. Aeri Kaminari." Mai's expression darkened. "I wonder if she was born blind."

"Mai... " Sora's tone was one of warning. Mai shrugged.

"What? I'm just curious. It could be to my advantage." She grumbled. Daisuke rolled his eyes.

"Gosh, you and your creepy jutsu..." He mumbled. Mai's eyes flashed red.

"What was that?" She hissed. Daisuke jumped up and cowered behind the closest person, Chihiro.

"Nothing!"

...

Yuudai, Kage and Lylith sat in front of Sasori, and a newly appeared Itachi. Both Akatsuki members were leaning against trees, watching the younger ninja colourlessly.

"I see. So Lylith failed." Sasori murmured, turning his gaze to the two males of the team while Lylith's head bowed slightly, in shame or fear, it was unclear. "But you two have moved on. Who are you facing?"

"I'm facing some Konoha ninja." Kage said, waving his hand in dismissal. Sasori nodded.

"I'm facing Kaito Arashi, as planned." Yuudai said, smirking.

"Excellent." Sasori looked back at Lylith. "Who was the one that bested you?"

"Aeri Kaminari." Lylith murmured. Sasori and Itachi exchanged a mildly interested glance.

"The blind girl from the Hidden Sand?" Itachi murmured, startling the three younger ninja. They had yet to hear him speak until that moment.

"Yes." Lylith nodded.

"Interesting..." Sasori murmured thoughtfully. There was something in his voice that the fake genin couldn't place. Something they didn't know. "We'll have to look out for her."

"Indeed." Itachi agreed. He glanced at the fake genin without interest. "Dismissed."

...

Ayaka and Gaara walked down the road from the hospital slowly. Ayaka had her arm thrown casually around Gaara's waist while his was over her shoulders. The young Kazekage walked stiffly, his muscles screaming in protest at the movement after so long in the hospital bed. He wore simple black pants and a loose black t-shirt, bandages peeking out of his collar and sleeves. Neji, Tenten and Lee followed them about twenty feet behind, talking quietly.

"Wow, you move worse than an old man, Panda-kun." Ayaka teased. Gaara scowled at her flatly.

"You could be a little more sympathetic." He hissed through gritted teeth. Ayaka grinned crookedly at him and kissed his cheek.

"Since when am I sympathetic? Tough love all the way." She said lightly. Gaara snorted. Ayaka's expression twisted mischievously and she ducked out from under Gaara's arm and danced out of his reach, causing the redhead to stumble and fall forward. Ayaka appeared beside him and stuck her arm out, effectively stopping his fall. Gaara blinked, staring at the dirt road an few inches from his nose.

"What the hell was that?" He growled as Ayaka pulled him to his feet. Ayaka smiled smugly.

"Tough love." She said, pulling Gaara against her and brushing her lips across his briefly. Just as quickly, she moved away and began helping him walk again.

"That's not 'tough love' that's cruel." Gaara mumbled, pouting ever-so-slightly. Ayaka laughed loudly, startling Team Gai.

"Same thing."

I just had to bring in Itachi, okay? I HAD to.

And because I know you guys will be curious (and because I just could not find a place for it in the chapter), here is the list of the pre-lim matches: (the winners are in brackets)

(Hanabi) vs. Ikari

(Mai) vs. Hachiro

(Daisuke) vs. Etsuko

(Kaito) vs. Chihiro

(Konohamaru) vs. Hanako

(Susumu) vs. Moegi

(Aeri) vs. Lylith

(Yoshino) vs. Sora

(Mayu) vs. Udon

(Nikko) vs. Manabu

(Yuudai) vs. Kenta

(Kage) vs. Matsuri

(Haruna) vs. Kaori

(Shiori) vs. Nameless Konoha Ninja

And the final round matches are:

Konohamaru vs. Kage

Mayu vs. Haruna

Susumu vs. Shiori

Hanabi vs. Daisuke

Aeri vs. Mai

Yoshino vs. Nikko

Kaito vs. Yuudai