A/N: So, we meet again. I am sorry for the long wait. I have 10.5 chapters mostly ready and they will all be coming out in the next few weeks. School is starting, but I don't have any intention of putting this story on hiatus again (or never again, for that matter). I would recommend that you read the rewritten chapter because quite a few things are different, especially in the first few. With that, I leave you with the first chapter of the new version of the Konoha 12!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Kakashi jumped from tree to tree, praying that he wouldn't be too late. The weird black clouds worried him a lot, like the strange energy that he had felt earlier. He just hoped that his students hadn't went overboard and used any lethal attacks.
(Not that Naruto would unless in a last case scenario, but the Copy-nin sometimes wasn't so sure about Sasuke.)
Upon reaching 'The Valley of the End', Kakashi realized that there was, in fact, a God somewhere out there.
As soon as he dropped next to the two unconscious boys, the rain stopped. He surveyed his surroundings, noting that the valley looked like a battlefield. A recently used one at that - there were large holes in the cliffs, water everywhere and it didn't seem it was there just because of the rain. He looked at the boys once again.
Sasuke's cursed mark was slightly pulsating, indicating that it had been used soon. Other than that, his clothes we torn up and he had cuts and bruises all over his body.
And a single scratch right across his forehead.
Although his students weren't in any condition to be happy about, he smiled slightly under his mask.
That day on the rooftop he hadn't arrived luckily on time - in fact, he had watched the whole fight up to the point when his male students had decided to use deadly attacks against each other with Sakura trying to stop them, coming inbetween. He had heard the whole conversation before and during the fight.
Kakashi couldn't really blame Sakura for what she had done - he knew, although she tried to hide it, that she felt like a nuisance to the team, and that she was not going to let them die on her watch. However, two days ago she had become the Hokage's appreantice and, from what he had heard, she was showing a long-hidden talent. He was really proud of her, although he had no reason to be - he had nothing to do with her current success. He knew that being a medical ninja would be best for her due to her perfect chakra control and already good first-aid knowledge, and the alternative - being a Genjutsu user, - didn't look too bad either. He was sorry that he had focused so much on Sasuke and Naruto and not on her, even when he had his reasons.
And her natural physical strength was something to be reckoned with, too. At times, he had felt sorry for Naruto.
Speaking of whom, at first sight, was in more serious condition than Sasuke - he had a hole in his shirt, where he was probably pierced with the Chidori. However, Kakashi then noted that he didn't have any cuts or bruices like Sasuke and there wasn't a single mark on the shoulder where his clothes had torn. The jounin figured out that Naruto had used the Nine Tails' help for the fight, which led him to believe that Sasuke had somehow strengthened the mark's effects - after all, from the times he had seen him with using the power, he knew that the seal wouldn't help him much against Naruto, who used a demon. The Copy-nin was sure of it.
Without further ado, he lifted both of the boys on his shoulders - Sasuke on the right, Naruto on the left, - and headed to Konoha, meeting with a medical team along the way. The medic-nins went with Kakashi at the hospital, where Sakura was waiting. She had a serious face on, but, once she looked at her teammates, her features softened. He heard her whisper to them, "Welcome home," as she went to do her duties. He might have seen her eyes watering, but he wasn't going to make a problem out of it.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, just before he passed out due to the power created by the collision of the Chidori and the Rasengan, Sasuke thought that he was going to wake up greeted by a big headache.
Surprisingly, he didn't.
He woke up, feeling fine, albeit a bit dizzy. Morphin. Soon after the effects of the drug started to subside and Sasuke was once again able to think clearly.
He looked around himself and found out that he was once again in the 'Konoha Hospital', a place with which he had became too familiar with lately. He started replaying his memories from the past few months - the Chūnin Exams, his fights with Naruto, Kakashi's words, Orochimaru's subordinates' words, the first and only time he met Orochimaru and the power of the newly second-stage cursed mark.
And Sasuke realized how messed up his life had become, and how he wasn't exactly making it better.
There was more than one reason why he had left (or tried to). Yes, revenge had played a big role, but there were other things.
There was Naruto's growth in strength. He had managed to beat Gaara, Kiba, Neji, beat that ninja from the Rain country Aoi, the Water guys that hadn't been bothering them since the Chunin exam, he managed to beat Sasuke himself.
There was the look of admiration in Sakura's eyes the day he told her that Naruto had been the one who saved them from the Sand. A look, which, for some reason, made him feel slightly annoyed.
Then there were, of course, Itachi's words towards him - he was not interested in fighting him, he still thought that his little brother was weak. And he was after Sasuke's friend.
Sasuke assumed that Naruto's strength came from the mysterious red chakra, but he knew it was more than that. Although he hadn't seen Naruto's fights during the chunin exam, he had heard about them from his team enough to know what it was that made Naruto so strong.
It was Naruto's determination to prove something.
To Kiba, he had proved that he was not the Academy's clown anymore, the boy that couldn't even do a Henge properly.
To Neji, he had proved that hard work can beat a genius, that he was not a drop-out.
But, to Gaara, Aoi and the others, it was another thing.
He wanted to protect them, Sasuke and Sakura, his teammates, his friends.
Sasuke himself had managed to fight the pain from his cursed mark during the match between Naruto and Gaara, the same pain that made him collapse during the Second exam.
As much as he'd wished to deny it, Itachi had been right - there wasn't a lot of hatred in his heart. In fact, ever since he had joined Team Seven, the already present hatred had taken a back seat in his life. Between the missions and quarrels and annoyances, the Chūnin Exams and bone-chilling enemies, Sasuke had started to care for his team.
It was something he had thought would never happen. After all, Sakura was still a weak and rather annoying fangirl, right? And Naruto was the loud-mouthed village idiot, ne?
Wrong. Somewhere over the course of the last few months, they had become his trusted comrades - friends, even, if he ever had ones. Sakura had stopped being so shallow, and had let her natural intelligence shine through. As for Naruto, he had proven himself as a reliable fighter and trustworthy partner in a fight.
So, was going to Orochimaru worth losing them?
Sasuke was not, in fact, doubting the importance of avenging his family; he was merely reconsidering his methods. The Sannin was a reliable source of power - he did, after all, have a personal interest in seeing Sasuke grow to the best of his abilities. But then again, wasn't Kakashi the one who had taught him his strongest technique, who had trusted him enough to use it for good?
"Those who abandon their mission are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash."
The genin didn't know how much time he sat on the bed, completely still, looking at the wall opposite himself and just thinking. However much it was, he was interrupted when the door opened.
It was Sakura. She smiled brightly and a little forcefully at the boy, closed the door and walked to the bed.
Sasuke had expected her to start crying, to beg him for a chance, but she didn't.
She just hugged him.
It wasn't the desperate hug she had given him when he had first woken up in the hospital after he had met Itachi, nor was it the fangirl 'clinging' she sometimes did. It was a warm, nice hug. A friendly hug. A little bit tense, like her smile, but a friendly one nevertheless.
Another realization hit him.
Sakura didn't trust him. And how could she, when he was the one who left her on that stupid bench after muttering something suspiciously close to "Thanks, but I'd rather not"?
Before Sasuke could react, the hug was over and she asked him, still smiling, "How are you?"
"I'm okay," he replied in an instant, though the look in her eyes told him that the answer was not, in fact, the correct one, but since when was there a correct one?
"Yeah, sure you are," she said, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "Two broken ribs, a few pulled muscles, numerous cuts and bruises. As good as new."
Oh. Well, when she put it that way...Wait. Since when was Sakura sassy? Sasuke blinked, thinking it was due to the fact that he was not her favourite person at the moment, and decided to reply in his usual cool voice.
"And how would you know that?"
"I'm helping around. It's part of my training to become a medic-nin under Tsunade-sama," she said, completely serious.
The answer left him surprised, and he didn't bother to hide it. Surprised, and maybe slightly disbelieving. She noticed and laughed at his expression, "Yeah, yeah, I know. But it requires good chakra control and I'm improving quite rapidly. It's been almost two weeks and Tsunade-sama already lets me heal cuts, I can also provide first aid," she said proudly.
Sasuke nodded, "Hn."
After all, he was Sasuke Uchiha and he was not good at communication, so he made other people adapt themselves to having one-sided conversations.
She rolled her eyes at his usual behavior, but grinned slightly. "Oh, by the way," she added in an all-too-cheery tone, "in case you are worried about your safety, don't be. There is an ANBU guarding your door."
He cocked an eyebrow. "And why would I be?"
"Well, let's just say there are quite a few people out there that aren't exactly happy about the fact that you are back. Especially when Naruto and Kakashi have been pleading for all of your crimes to be lifted. Surprisingly, committing treason and nearly killing Konoha's newly-beloved blond idiot can have some people pretty intent on beating you up."
Sasuke shook his head slightly in amusement.
Just before he could reply though, the door burst open and Naruto entered, ANBU yelling behind him. He just smiled and closed the door. Sasuke thought that he saw Kakashi's grey hair, but wasn't sure. The blond boy turned towards the bed where his teammates were looking questioningly at him, but he shrugged the matter off, putting his hands behind his neck in the usual laid-back position and glaring at the Uchiha.
"Teme, you look nice," Sasuke narrowed his eyes at him, but said nothing. "Still, don't think you can go wander around on your own. There is an ANBU guarding you 24/7."
"If this ANBU can't even stop an idiot like you from entering, then I think that me wandering around would be much safer, thank you."
Naruto dropped his glare after a couple of moments and started chuckling. Sakura followed after him, and Sasuke, for some reason, was on the verge of laughing himself.
Things weren't supposed to be this easy, right? Not when he had betrayed them, nearly killed Naruto and humiliated Sakura. They were not supposed to be laughing like this, together, as if nothing had happened.
It made everything all the more amusing, though. Again, when exactly had his life become so messed up?
"Tha-That's because," Naruto managed to say between laughing. He was almost rolling on the floor now. "That's b-because I-I'm the best ninja ever!"
"Hn," Sasuke replied, but continued smirking, which looked suspiciously like smiling. Sakura was too busy giggling like mad to notice.
After a minute or so, Naruto and Sakura both straigthened up and informed Sasuke of what had happened to the other people on his retrieval mission. Some of them had had tougher fights than others, but ultimately they were all recovering just fine. He still wasn't sure whether it was a good thing that he was back or not, but decided to appreciate the fact that they had basically put their lives on the line for him. In fact, Sasuke actually thought that what he was feeling was suspiciously close to guilt, and a small voice in his head that hadn't been completely corrupted by thoughts of revenge whispered that it was, and that he should be proud to be feeling this way, because there was still hope for himself. Naruto and Sakura both caught his sly smile, and smiled wider in return.
"And what of the Sound Four?" the black-haired boy asked.
"Sound Five," Naruto corrected him. "There was another member who arrived later. I fought him for bit, then Bushy Eyebrows took him and it turned out Gaara also helped. Choji took on the fat one, Neji - the creepy guy with a lot of arms, Kiba - the guy with two heads and Shikamaru - the girl that wouldn't stop cussing."
"Hn," the Uchiha replied yet again. Secretly, though, he was impressed.
Suddenly, Sakura smacked her forehead, eyes wide as if she had just remembered something, and turned to the Uchiha.
"Sasuke, take your shirt off. I was supposed to have a look at you, but we got distracted. You've been out for about a week and the last time your bandages were changed was yesterday."
Sasuke complied and looked at the bandages covering his chest. Sakura quickly stripped them off and examined his ribs, then the cuts and bruises. He took note both of how methodically she proceeded, only healing one of the bigger cuts and carefully checking the others. He then concluded that Sakura definately had potential, which, to be honest, wasn't all that surprising. After all, her excellent chakra control and observation skills had made themselves clear in the very beginning of the team. She finished, applied new bandages and he pulled his shirt back on. He was about to mutter a "Thanks" when the Godaime Hokage, who was probably the last person that wanted to see him at the moment, walked in.
She didn't bother with the usual greetings and other formalities, and went straight on the offense.
"Uchiha Sasuke, you willingly left the village with Orochimaru's men, fully aware the consequences of your actions," she started, looking at him sternly.
"Yes," it was not a question, but hell, he thought it needed confirmation anyway.
Tsunade nodded, as if expecting the reply, then continued, "You also knew that the official punishment for treason is handling you like any other missing-nin, regardless of background. You were also aware that said punishment is death."
"Yes, I was fully aware."
Tense silence filled the room. Sakura and Naruto had, on instinct, stepped between him and Tsunade. The Godaime Hokage looked at the three genin with a glare that had sent other people of their very rank running for their lives. Naruto held her gaze, but there was a bead of sweat on his forehead, and Sakura gulped slightly, but didn't falter either. Tsunade continued staring at them, but then noticed something flickering in Sasuke's eyes. It was only for a moment, but she could swear-
Nevermind, she thought. It just made her desicion easier.
"Very well then," she stated, dropping her glare. "Fortunately for you, since the village is still recovering from the invasion on the Chūnin Exams, I did not have enough time to declare you officially a missing-nin. Therefore, I have no legal standing to treat you as such. That is the law. I cannot lift crimes that have never been stated officially."
Naruto smiled, and Sakura couldn't hide her happiness either. Sasuke, however, knew not to push it and didn't change his expression. She was letting him off the hook, but why? Was there anything more? Plus, he was still going to receive some kind of punishment, he just knew it.
"However," Ah, there it was. "I cannot leave you wandering around unattended, seeing as you have to prove your loyalty. I will have two jōnin stationed at your house for the next three months or if I deem needed, more. Should you try to betray this village again, you will be declared missing-nin and will face the consequences. Meanwhile, you will be put under a test-period, during which you will have the opportunity to prove your loyalty. Is that understood?"
He nodded, calmly accepting the situation. "Yes. Thank you, Hokage-sama."
Tsunade smirked. It was the first time he had ever called her that. Also, he still didn't know what said test-period involved. It was an idea that had occurred to her the week before, the night when he and Naruto were brought back by Kakashi.
Things were going to get interesting.
"Sakura, what is his condition?" Tsunade asked her appreantice.
"His cuts and bruises are mostly healed, but I had to close one of them that had opened," the girl replied, putting a smile on her teacher's face. She really did have talent.
"Then, Uchiha, you may leave the hospital, but I want you all in the Hokage mansion in two hours, got it?"
"Hai," they all confirmed and Sasuke and Sakura stood from the bed. The two of them briefly contemplated asking, but figured that if Tsunade wanted them to know why she would have told them. Naruto, for his part, was too excited to care.
"So, you want us all to be a team?" Naruto questioned after Tsunade had finished her speech. The boy looked kind of confused, which might have been amusing had Tsunade not just finished a 30 minute lecture on why she thought that Team Seven, Team Eight, Team Ten and Team Gai would make a good battle unit. At least he was able to comprehend it, she thought a bit ticked off. Still, fitting all of her reasons in thirty minutes had taken a lot of speech planning on her side.
She had explained that she knew that the Rookie Nine where all nominated for the Chūnin exam and they had all passed the first and second Exam. Same went for Team Gai. Their fights in the exam had been pretty though from what she had heard, but, nevertheless, the ones that had passed had done brilliantly.
Then there were their fights during the Third exam matches.
Then there were their talents.
Hyuga Neji was his clan's genius, but, from what she had heard from Kurenai, Hinata was starting to improve. Tenten was a weapons master, something uncommon for those times. Lee was a taijutsu master - which also wasn't that common.
The Ino-Shika-Chou formation had been established by Team Ten's great ancestors and their children had their abilities - Ino was good with Mind techniques, Shikamaru - with Shadow ones (also had the intellect of Nara clansmen) and Chouji - with Body extension. The original Ino-Shika-Chou formation had always been exceptionately strong, but Tsunade thought that the new one would prove to be even stronger.
Team Eight were good in tracking - Shino with his insects, Hinata with her Byakugan and Kiba with Akamaru. They could all use their abilities pretty well.
If Team Gai was the oddest one, Team Ten - the one with the best teamwork and Team Eight - the one good at tracking, then Team Seven was the Golden Trio.
Sakura, despite not being from a clan, was really smart, sometimes rivaling the Nara prodigy (as much as one can, of course). She was good at chakra control and genjutsu and was going to become an exceptional medic - Tsunade was sure of it. Also, her natural strength was something to be reckoned with.
Sasuke was from the Uchiha clan, the once most noble clan in Konoha and had natural talent - strength, speed and, of course, the Sharingan. Now, he had the Chidori and training with Kakashi was starting to pay off. Although he had the cursed mark, which was proven to be unstable at times, it was possible to learn to control it even without Orochimaru's help. It could be of great use.
And then there was Naruto.
Tsunade was sure that there were things the genin in the room and Shikamaru (possibly - you could never be too sure with a Nara) didn't know - about the red chakra which he had used in his match against Neji and, apparently, against Sasuke the week before. About all the pain and sadness that his past hid.
But there were things that even Naruto himself didn't know.
He didn't know why he was able to master the Rasengan, why he had more stamina and chakra than most shinobi, why he had managed to read a scroll that only jounin could read and master a technique from it in less than a night, then use it.
The Kage Bunshin ninjutsu.
He didn't fully realize what influence (in a good way) he had on the people he met, how he changed their lives. Heck, he even managed to get Zabuza, one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, to cry and confess his deep care for his partner and friend Haku. A man that was rumored to be a demon, one who killed 100 people in one night.
He had even managed to change Tsunade's own mind - which not many, if any, could say to have done. He had also convinced Sabaku no Gaara, after fighting him and winning, that he had a wrong perspective. That had won Konoha a valuable ally.
He probably didn't know that he had a bridge named after him - the Great Naruto Bridge, finished after Team Seven's mission in Wave country.
He didn't know. Yet. And how did Tsunade know? Well, the Hokage had her ways.
One of the things he also didn't know was why he, of all people, had the Nine-Tails inside of him. Why his parents had died. But, soon enough, he would know.
And when he realized all of these things, he would know that he was worthy of being a Hokage.
A thing which Tsunade herself believed.
Of course, he still had a lot to learn.
"Yes, Naruto, a team," she replied, then turned to the rest. "What do you think?"
The shinobi exchanged glances. They all thought about what Tsunade had said. And, although they had some issues in their relationships with each other, they all came to the same conclusion.
They could make it work.
So, when Naruto replied for all of them, no one said a word.
"We'll do it."
A/N: I am kind of peeved about the flow in this one, but it can't be helped. I've definitely gotten better since this story first started, but I still have ways to go. Anyway, what do you think? I changed some of Sasuke and Sakura's interactions (and Team Seven's, for that matter) and Sasuke's thoughts. I hope you guys are happy about how it turned out, at least a little bit. To all new readers, welcome! I'm happy to have you here. I hope you stay with us until the end (which is already pretty much planned, by the way).
A revised chapter two should be up in the next couple of days. HOO63 out.