Sorry for the wait! Real life issues, gentleman callers, sick uncles, gaiden. Anyway enjoy!


Chapter Seven: Squad Formation

"WHERE THE HELL IS SHE!?" Naruto bellowed into the living quarters of the Hokage Tower, making Sakura jump a little. The baka had finished with his written test faster than she thought he would... however, she had been expecting this outburst.

It didn't take him long to find her, perched on a ladder in the archives, gathering a few of her medical scrolls for their upcoming mission. She gave him an innocent grin in greeting.

"Where is your mom, Sakura-chan!?" the kyuubi vessel asked her heatedly, his face as red as a tomato and his eyes flashing with rage. "I have a bone to pick with her!"

"Calm down, Naruto, she's up in her office." Sakura told him. "But, she has council members meeting with her, so your going to hold off on your bitching..."

Naruto turned without another word and, despite Sakura's warning, marched his way up toward the Hokage's Office. Sakura gasped in horror. "Baka, don't you dare!"

She leaped down from her ladder and took off after him, tackling him in the hall before he could interrupt her mother.

"OI!" Naruto cried, the wind being knocked out of him as he fell to the floor. "Let me go, Sakura-chan!"

"You are not going to barge in there and make a scene in front of the councilmen, that's the last thing my mother needs right now!" the fiery kunochi told the blonde, holding him down as he began to struggle. "Just calm down!"

"Me? I'm not the one tackling people!" he cried back, before tossing her off him, only to get caught in her neck hold as the kunochi began to drag him back to her' s and her mother's living quarters. "SAKURA! LET GO!"

They tussled around back and forth for a few minutes, like they had often done when they were kids, before Sakura managed to pin him on the floor by his wrists, using her chakra enhanced strength to keep him in place. "I said to calm the hell down, idiot!"

"What is going on in here?" Tsunade asked, crossing her arms, making the two young nin halt in their movements. "Let's save it for tomorrow, okay, you two?"

Naruto took the opportunity to knock Sakura off him, pointing an accusing finger at his Hokage. "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, GRANNY!? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!?"

"Baka!" Sakura growled, side-kicking the blonde as she rose to her feet.

"OUCH!" Naruto cried. "Sakura-chaaannnn!"

Tsunade sighed looking skyward, making sure to close the door that separated her living quarters from the rest of the tower. The council members had already made their leave, but she still wasn't going to risk them hearing this ruckus... how much Sakura and Naruto reminded her of herself and her old comrade Jiryaya in their younger days. They might as well have been siblings. "Enough, Naruto."

"A Uchiha?!" he cried, ignoring her request. "You're putting me, a rebel leader, on the same squad as a Uchiha!?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Tsunade asked him. "The peace treaty has been signed, all the war and violence should be coming to an end and the Uchiha are just as much part of the village as any other clan."

"Yeah, the most important part, how could I forget?" Naruto replied haughtily. "What if the bastard tries to kill me in my sleep? HUH?"

"I'm sure Sakura won't let that happen." Tsunade shrugged. "Teams were made up like your genin squads, they're composed of a balance of skills, and have nothing to do with politics."

"I can't believe you!?" Naruto cried. "In what universe is this a good idea?"

Tsunade sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Listen, brat, you and the rest of the angry youths are going to have to learn to coexist with the Uchiha Clan, one way or another, this war of yours only exists in your head."

"But..."

"Enough." the Hokage commanded. "If you're going to spend your nights rallying to reclaim my authority over the village, then you should respect my decisions and obey my commands."

The blonde grumbled, crossing his arms in contempt.

"Now stop being a brat and go clean up upstairs, you're staying over for dinner." Tsunade told him. "You're going to need a decent meal and good night's sleep for your mission tomorrow."

"Fine, Granny."

"What was that?"

"I said yes, Hokage-sama." Naruto replied, grumbling to himself as he made his way toward the bathroom to freshen up. "We better be having something good to eat tonight."

Tsunade turned her attention to her daughter then, who was busy collecting herself after her brief brawl with the young renegade.

"And, how did you find this arrangement, may I ask?"

Sakura shrugged with a huff. She didn't think it was one of her mother's smartest moves, she was more than surprised when she read the names of her future squad... but then, Naruto would clash with just about anyone he was placed on a team with before getting to know them. He was quick to judge, but was as loyal as one could be once he befriended a person.

"We'll be an interesting assortment." Sakura replied carefully. "Though, I have a feeling I will be having to keep them from killing each other."

Tsunade nodded thoughtfully, looking her daughter up and down, before quipping. "Yes, it is quite a deduction of points if one of your squad members is KIA'd."

...

"Mom, I have to go now." Sasuke informed his mother, who was making him late with her fussing. Mikoto was going over her infamous 'Mission Checklist' that she had made for him back when he was a genin and he was now starting to get tired of her antics.

"I'm almost finished." Mikoto told him, trying to hide her worry. "Do you have your map? Rations scrolls? Oh, and your whey stone?"

"Yes, yes, and yes." he sighed, placing his hands on her shoulders to pacify her. "I have everything, I promise... I'll see you in a few days, alright?"

Mikoto nodded before embracing him tightly. "Be careful, Sasuke."

"I will." he rolled his eyes. Why his mother had to act like this every time he set foot out of the house, he would never know.

"Leaving already, little brother?" Itachi asked as he descended the stairs in his police uniform.

"Aa." Sasuke replied with a nod. "I'll send a transmission as soon as I know where were headed."

"Good luck then," Itachi told him, patting his shoulder as he passed. "Pass the sentiment on to Sakura for me as well."

Sasuke nodded again. "I'll do that."

There was no point in waiting around to say goodbye to his father. Sasuke knew he had already left early for a meeting with Tsunade. He probably wouldn't see him until the third phase of the exams.

With a final goodbye, he left for the training grounds. It was a beautiful day out, perfect for traveling if that was what their mission required. Finding that he was somewhat early than he anticipated, and the others had not arrived yet, he settled his shoulders against a tree and waited.

He wondered about his mission, but more so, his assigned squad that he would have to work with. It would be interesting to see how they would mesh. Kakashi had been one of his mentors for years now, he was used to working with him, the silver-haired jonin wouldn't be a problem. He supposed he liked Sakura well enough, she seemed to have a good head on her shoulders and he had seen first hand how skilled a medic she was.

The blonde punk was another story. Sasuke wasn't sure how long he could keep up a tolerance level for that renegade.

A flash of pale pink caught the corner of his eye, interrupting his thoughts and making him turn to see Sakura approaching, her hair in one long braid like it was before, swaying back and forth behind her back as if it was a rose-colored rope.

"Good morning!" she greeted so brightly, that he had to repress a smile at how ungodly cheerful she was. It was somewhat hard to believe that she was a shinobi, much less the daughter of the Hokage.

"Hey." he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Before any further exchanges could made, a raspy caterwaul echoed throughout the grounds.

"SAKURA-CHAN! I SAID TO WAIT FOR ME!" Naruto wailed as he padded up to them, dressed in a orange and black jumpsuit. Sakura sighed loudly through her nose as the golden-haired rebel came to a halt beside her, giving her quite the pout. "Gee Sakura, leaving behind a comrade behind, real nice way to get a mission started."

"You overslept, I couldn't wake you up." the rosette countered, but Naruto only snorted in reply.

Sasuke found his eyebrow arching at that statement. Overslept? Did he sleep at her house? The raven-haired young man's gaze shifted between the two of them curiously.

"I can't help but oversleep when your mom's dumb ol' couch is as hard as a rock!" Naruto pointed out. "You were supposed to set an alarm."

"Kami, you're so ungrateful sometimes!" the kunochi muttered under her breath, crossing her arms as she turned away from her comrade.

Sasuke's ruffled feathers smoothed out a bit more as their situation was made more clear. He didn't know why he was so put off by the notion of the punk staying over at her house in the first place, it really wasn't any of his business... but then, Sakura was marrying his brother, so maybe it was.

"Uchiha." Naruto acknowledged the third member of his squad, crossing his arms and lifting his nose.

"Hn." Sasuke replied. "Uzumaki."

"Hey!" Naruto pointed an accusing finger in the dark-haired boy's face suddenly. "How do you know my surname!?"

"It was on the mission scroll, baka." Sakura sighed with a roll of her eyes. "Stop being so paranoid."

Sasuke couldn't help but smirk as the blonde scowled to hide his embarrassment, retracting his offending finger.

"...oh." he muttered, crossing his arms once more. "Whatever."

Sakura moved past them then, making both her comrades turn to watch her curiously as she settled a top a large boulder. "Might as well get comfortable, Kakashi-sensei is always late."

"That dumb old scarecrow, I could see him making us late for the most important mission of our career." Naruto grumbled at the very thought.

Sasuke sighed, re-settling against his chosen perch. The knucklehead did have a point. Kakashi was an exceptional shinobi, but he had no respect for time or schedule. The three of them could be there for hours.

"We might as well take this time to hash things out." Sakura suggested. "It's best to know your team before starting a mission."

Naruto smirked and crossed his arms before plopping down to sit and lean against the boulder. "Heh, we don't need to do that Sakura-chan, you and I already know everything about each other."

Sasuke kept a passive face as the blonde cast him a smug look. "Sakura and I were on the same genin squad, we also made chunin together and I practically live at her house... so looks like you're the odd man out, ay Sasuke?"

"Naruto." Sakura muttered under her breath, looking skyward.

Again, Sasuke had to admit the kid had a point. He was definitely the outsider here. Kakashi had gone over the importance of team work, but with his isolated training he never really had the chance to put it into practice. He didn't even have a squad for the chunin exams, he passed them alone. Still, he wasn't going to let that get in the way, working on a team was just a series of ranks of power and a distribution of tasks.

Sakura was a medic, her task of course would be maintaining the health and well-being of the team, she obviously would also have to be protected to ensure the survival of the squad. He himself would best serve as a strategist on a squad, with his advanced sight and superior intellect, he could form the most well suited plan of action for the mission instantly in his head.

He wasn't sure what Naruto could do, aside from being a punk and talking smack, but the kid had to have something under his sleeve to have made it this far, right? The blonde and Sakura really did have the advantage of being on a squad together in the past, they would know each other's strengths and weaknesses, where he would not. He would have to try to adapt and learn quickly, though, if he was going to be of any help to them.

"It's been a year since we've actually worked on the same team, Naruto, so it still wouldn't hurt to go over things." Sakura pointed out, pinching the bridge of her nose to keep herself in check.

"You do have a point." Naruto conceded, glaring at Sasuke. "We should lay down some ground rules."

"You mean like keeping our political opinions to ourselves and away from the mission." Sakura suggested pointedly, nudging Naruto's shoulder with the tip of her toe. "Right?"

"Oi, Sakura-chan!"

Sasuke silently agreed with that. If a rebel, the Hokage's daughter, and a Uchiha were all going to be on the same team, politics couldn't exist, or else there would be chaos.

"Fine, I have another rule." Naruto stated. "We all treat each other as equals, just because I'm on a team with the Hokage's kid and the Chieftain's kid, I won't be treated like the dead-weight, okay?."

"I agree." Sakura nodded. "Any and all titles should be forgotten on this mission as well."

Sasuke nodded in reply. It would be nice to not be the Chieftain's kid for a change. While he missed his family when he was away, he did enjoy the advantage of being anonymous in his travels. Being immensely hated or loved, by people who did not know a thing about him, was something he did not mind getting away from.

Sakura inclined her head toward him then, her cheery smile still absurdly bright. "How about you, Sasuke? Do you have any rules to add?"

Sasuke was thoughtful for a moment before answering. "Family and personal matters should be left alone as well. Especially concerning your mother, my father, and my brother. None of them are here, so our sole focus should be the mission and not on them. There should also be no judgement towards us concerning them."

"Aw, poor kids with wealthy and famous parents, how do you cope?" Naruto teased, moving his hands to rest behind his head.

"You mean like that?" Sakura asked Sasuke, giving Naruto another, harsher, nudge with her foot.

"Exactly." Sasuke replied, holding back a smile.

It was about two hours later until their instructor arrived, which was not bad for Kakashi standards. Naruto had begun to doze off, Sakura had her nose buried deep in one of her medical scrolls, and Sasuke simply remained against his perch in stoic patience.

"Good morning, jonin candidates!" Kakashi greeted as he poofed into existence on a high branch in the tree Sasuke was leaning on. The sudden and cheerful greeting jolted Naruto back to consciousness. "How are we on this fine day?"

"You're late, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto grumbled as he came round, pointing an accusing finger toward the silver-haired jonin.

"Sorry about that, I was a little lost on the..."

"Path of life? Yes, we know." Sakura finished for him, lifting herself up off the boulder.

"Right." Kakashi grinned beneath his mask, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "Good to see you, Sakura. You too, Naruto. It's been a while."

"Yeah, I've been continuing my training with that pervy-sage, Jiraiya, since the chunin exams." Naruto told him, rubbing his knuckles arrogantly against his jacket. "Not to brag or nothing, but training with a Sanin has really made me quite the advanced ninja."

"I'm sure." Kakashi replied in a slightly sarcastic tone. "Hey there, Sasuke, I just can't seem to get rid of you."

"Kakashi." the raven-haired boy replied, shrugging in response.

"So, might as well not waste any time..." Kakashi began, pulling out the mission scroll.

"Yeah, no more than we already have." Naruto grumbled.

Kakashi ignored him. "While this mission is just as important as any other mission, it still was given to the three of you with the specific purpose to evaluate your abilities, as well as your teamwork ethic and leadership skills... So, there will be an alternation of rank throughout the mission."

"Alternation of rank?" Sakura asked.

"Sakura, you know I don't like it when you repeat what I say." Kakashi sighed. "Yes, an alternation of rank, which means that each of you will be placed as the team leader while the mission progresses. This shows not just your ability to lead, but also to follow. Both are very important in the role of a jonin."

The three of them all exchanged surprised glances rather humorously then, making Kakashi have to hold back a small chuckle.

"Okay, so who leads first?" Naruto asked curiously.

"You might want to know what your actual mission is first, wouldn't you say?" Kakashi asked as he unrolled the scroll and handed it to Sakura. "Care to do the honors, Sakura?"

The rosette took the scroll, and Sasuke couldn't help but read over her shoulder, he was a head taller than her and it was too easy.

"It's a retrieval mission." Sakura explained. "A-ranked. The wife of Aikiko Razim, one of the councilman to the Land of Fire, has disappeared on her return journey from Suna. Akasuki or rogue ninja activity is suspected."

"Pfft, piece of cake mission." Naruto scoffed. "We'll bring back the broad in no time flat. So, who's leader first?"

"Relax, Naruto." Kakashi chided. "Let me explain a few more points on this phase of your exam. I will be scoring you on all the points previously mentioned as well as how efficiently and quickly you complete the mission. Do know that I will be shadowing you more than anything else, and that I am a last minute resort. If I have to assist you in anyway, it is a large deduction of points."

"Okay we get it, who's leader first!?" Naruto exclaimed, getting impatient. "Is it me, Sensei?"

"Well, I was going to go by birth-date or surname, but then you would go last both times, wouldn't you, Naruto?"

"Let's do reverse age or surname, then!" Naruto suggested coyly. "Then I go first each time and Sakura-chan goes last each time."

Sakura made a face at the blonde.

"Alright, Naruto, you win, you can be team leader during the first phase of the mission." Kakashi conceded.

"HELL YEAH!" The blonde cheered happily, swinging his fist through the air. "That's right, Naruto Uzumaki, future Hokage and Jonin Team Leader."

"Through the first phase only, Naruto." Kakashi reminded him. "You'll lead until you arrive at the scene of the abduction, Sasuke will then take the lead to find your client's wife, and Sakura will lead during your return journey to the village, understood."

The youths all agreed simultaneously.

...

"Good morning, Father." Itachi greeted as Fugaku entered his office. "Meeting with the Hokage go well?"

The Chieftain sighed. "As well as it can with that insufferable woman, but I didn't come here to discuss that."

"Of course not." Itachi replied. "What can I do for you?"

"The council, as well as Tsunade, is getting impatient about your case, they say they want any further details you've discovered thus far."

Itachi leaned against his desk passively, crossing his arms with a sigh. "Unfortunately, there has been hardly any progression concerning that, the case is quite elaborate, and there are still too many suspects."

"Itachi," his father stated sternly. "This case has gone on for nearly two weeks and it must come to a close, one way or another, I can't have clan leaders murdered under my nose and be unable to do anything about it. Hizashi Hyuuga's death will set that whole clan against us if we don't get answers, or worse, breed more rebel sympathizers. His son has already been a thorn in my side since the incident."

"Father, the Hyuuga Clan has enemies within all the clans, they are even hostile toward each other... his own twin brother is on my list of suspects... unless you want me making inaccurate assumptions, this case could go on for a long while."

Fugaku let out an agitated sigh. "All ask of you, is to find something out by the next session, or else you and I will both be dealing with the repercussions."

Itachi looked down tiredly. "I'll do what I can, father."

"Good." Fugaku replied. "I'll see you at dinner tonight."

Itachi nodded slowly as his father departed. He waited for a long while before he moved toward the window sill of his office, unlocking the glass window with a soft click. A moment later Shikamaru Nara appeared before him.

"Sorry about that." Itachi told him. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut this short."

"No problem, I have to report for the second phase of the exams anyway." The brunette replied dryly.

"Forward this to Tsunade-sama, will you?" Itachi asked, jotting down a few more notes, before sealing and handing the younger man a grey envelope. "Tell her that it's all I have for her now, but I'll get more information when my father oversees the third phase of the exams."

"Sure thing," Shikamaru said, taking the note between his fingers.

"Be careful not to get caught by any of my officers, their at lunch now, but still, they've been improving on taking notice of their surroundings... Oh and pass my sincere condolences to Neji Hyuuga about the death of his father, I know that he is on your squad for the exams."

"I'm sure he'll be glad to hear it." Shikamaru replied before disappearing out the window, leaving Itachi to stare out at the village.

His beloved village he was determined to liberate from his own family.


Oh Itachi, you sneaky bastard. Can anyone say 'exposition'!?