(April 2013) Editing this fic... No promises on updates

Chapter I: Reunion

"Good morning, Sakura-chan!" cried a blond jounin, frantically waving an arm above his head once he spotted his childhood crush loitering about the North Gate.

"Good morning Naruto!" the girl replied cheerfully. Something she would not have done five or six years ago. Then again, thumbing your nose at six years worth of turmoil, memories and life was not exactly something Team Seven would do.

The four had not been able to meet as a whole Team Seven for many months, but their concern and friendship for one another never faded. Which was why the little brat still greeted her the same way every time they passed each other by chance.

Well… He wasn't little anymore, Sakura thought, curling a lock of hair behind her ear, listening as Naruto chattered excitedly about one of his previous missions. In fact, she was now the shortest among the former members of Team Seven. She couldn't even punch Naruto properly no matter what kind of half-witted observation or remark he made. He was tall; as tall—maybe even taller—as Sasuke.

But Kakashi-sensei was still the tallest.

"Naruto, what are you doing here?" Sakura finally asked noting that Naruto had made himself comfortable on the steps of the gate. She was called very suddenly on a B Rank mission, which was why she had been at the gate in the first place. However, she never found out who would accompany her, and the last person she thought would accompany her was a jounin. Maybe Godaime-sama decided to slap together the original Team Seven.

Sure enough, Sasuke's appearance confirmed her suspicions and the overly-belated appearance of the fourth member solidified it.


"You're late!"

At the age of eighteen, things had changed rapidly for the three. Naruto and Sasuke had become jounins quite recently while Sakura decided settle at her current Chuunin status. While the blonde was still training furiously to become Hokage—and still hadn't changed his consistent diet of ramen for that matter—Sasuke had expressed interest in becoming a member of the ANBU, which also meant that Naruto would set sights on the same goal. As usual, Naruto carried most of the conversation as they waited for their client while Sasuke butted in just to heat up his rival.

Sakura wondered what Kakashi had been doing during those six years. The man's routine had probably never changed until they were under his care, so she wondered what he would do after he failed another group of gennin candidates in his traditional fashion. Her eyes wandered to her former teacher. Though he looked like he was reading that book, he was probably eavesdropping on their conversation. After all, they were still the only students he had acknowledged as gennins. It was at that moment that Sakura realized the reason Tsunade-sama had arranged the meeting point so early was to make sure that Kakashi would arrive before their client.

"…And I still couldn't beat that Obaa-san," Naruto sulked as he ended his anecdote about his latest challenge against Godaime.

"Ne, ne, Sakura-chan!" the boy swiveled around to Sakura before Sasuke could slip in a snide remark, "I heard that you were gonna be a medic-nin!" Sasuke raised an eyebrow. This was the first time he heard such news.

Sakura had no time to confirm his statement when the three were approached by a rather… Big-boned man accompanied by the Hokage.

"This is the feudal lord of the Lightning Country. He has requested for protection after he became the target of a few radical groups." Tsunade wore a thinly masked desire on her face to rid this man from her presence. Not that anyone couldn't understand. Sakura couldn't if the look on his face was an unfortunate product of genetics or if his face really was perpetually leering.

"He looks like Gama-Bunta," Naruto mumbled. Sakura muffled a giggle and Sasuke smirked. The countenance of their client was, indeed, comparable to the toad Naruto summoned sporadically in his youth. But uglier, Sakura thought.

"I trust that you will provide me with the best protection the Hidden Leaf Village has to offer." Naruto's mouth had assumed an unnatural angle at the man's toad-like voice. He was digging deep to his meager reservoir of self-control to stifle his laughter.

Another word would have broken his tentative resolve, but fortunately the client decided to take his time and walked up to survey the four.

The man was of the dumpy sort, being a whole foot shorter than Sasuke, to whom he seemed to express a general distaste. He surveyed Naruto's strangely strained expression and quaking body quizzically.

Stopping in front of Sakura, his bulging eyes widened slightly and to Sakura's (and Naruto's) utter disgust, his amphibious eyes curved in delight as he scrutinized her. It was bad enough that she was in his visual range, but this was—

"So I guess we're off!" Kakashi had suddenly stepped between the client and Sakura, calling out to Tsunade. He reached over and took the scroll from her as froggish eyes glared at the masked man reading from the roll of paper. A sleepy eye met with an inhumanly attentive-looking pair. Kakashi merely laughed and waved back good-naturedly.

Sakura sighed in relief as the man's ample derriere disappeared into his carriage. Sasuke was supporting Naruto's weight as the latter gripped the former's shoulder for support, laughing as silently as he could behind Sasuke. The dark-eyed boy let loose a shaky sigh, signifying that he was trying not to join his hyperactive teammate.

"Get a grip, dobe," Sasuke attempted to sound annoyed as he hit the fox-boy over the head. It didn't produce the desired effect, breaking Naruto's tenacity and causing him to laugh uncontrollably. Sasuke could only turn his head away, and Sakura could still see that his body was shaking. She sighed again. Six years and Sasuke still had not acquired an efficient immunity against Naruto's colorful observations.

Kakashi rolled the scroll he had received from Godaime and burned it with a sequence of simple seals. Sakura noted a fleeting look of severity in her former teacher's expression, but decided that any inquiries should wait until a better time.

"Let's go."

They had been traveling uphill for quite some time. The trail was long and mountainous, but not dangerous. Naruto had stopped talking and everyone in the caravan had grown quiet. Sleeping or dozing, one of the two. The sun had begun to set; the pink hues in the sky would soon be set in a flame of orange before plunging into darkness.

Amphibian-man had been stingy and lecherous, offering a ride to Sakura but rejecting Naruto outright when the exceptionally active boy immediately declared that he was to sit next to her. Sakura, of course, declined to the... man's offer. Not only would it disrupt teamwork if she accepted such favoritism from the client, but… Sakura shook her head. Teamwork wouldn't suffer. Only she would.

"Ow!" Sakura thrust her hand out in an instinctive reaction as dirt and gravel gave away underfoot in effort to catch herself. A vice-like grip clamped around her wrist, sparing her from a rocky fall down the mountain path. Pain, however, mocked her and her rescuer's efforts as it coursed rapidly from her shin to her knee.

"Sakura." On the sound of her name, Sakura looked up. Her teacher observed her slightly contorted face for a moment and seemed to make a resolution on an issue he had been pondering on. Pulling her back up onto her feet, he lazily watched her regain her balance.

"It's tiring, isn't it? This walk…" Damn you, Inner Sakura cursed. Sakura herself, however, shrugged. She had just tripped. If it was nothing earth shattering or death defying, she could go on.

Something tickled her injured leg and crawled down where it was absorbed into the fabric of her sandal. Looking down, she saw dark streaks dribbling down from the source of her pain. Even in the waning light, Sakura recognized that her right leg was wounded fairly seriously. To stop and heal herself was out of question at the pace they were traveling.

"I'll carry you."

"Eh!" This was the first time Kakashi had offered to do anything generous to any of his ex-students. He never even bought them ramen and… wasn't he a pervert?

"We'll take care of the wound when we arrive. And besides," he smiled. At least, from what she could gather from his one visible eye. "We're falling behind."

"Wha… huh?" Sakura stared at the back of their caravan as the last cab passed calmly by.

"O-OK…" She agreed, quickly overshadowed the pervert thought out of her mind with the reassurance that he most likely wouldn't do anything funny on a mission. With the exception of this offer. Her mind somewhat at ease, she hesitantly agreed to a piggyback ride.

Her arms were pressed onto her sides and her fingers fidgeted on her sensei's shoulders. Attempting to kick the disturbing thought of her current state of intimacy into a corner of her mind, Sakura thought how six years ago she would have been ecstatic if Sasuke made an offer such as this. She deduced that her reaction would be the same, but not without a tinge of suspicion. But the person carrying her wasn't Sasuke or Naruto. This was Kakashi-sensei, which made things a bit… peculiar, given his reputation. Then again, he happened to be the only person who could immediately calm her distraught feelings. Sakura thought, her previous qualms slipping away as she slowly made herself comfortable.

Sakura decided that this was a good time to ask the jounin about the scroll.

After she finished organizing her thoughts, Sakura placed her chin on the collar of the copy ninja's vest and mumbled, "Kakashi-sensei…" Even though she hadn't been his student for quite some time, Sakura, as well as Naruto, was still in the habit of calling their teacher by his previous title.

"Is it about the mission?" he inquired immediately. Sakura nodded, knowing that the man could still identify the motion without looking.

Usually a scroll was given to the participants of the mission as information to be relayed to a third party. Not only did their teacher read the scroll, but he had also taken the liberty to destroy it.

What was also strange was that she was the only chuunin on this mission amidst three exceptionally dangerous and capable shinobis. A medic-nin and three jounins. It seemed to be overkill for a relatively simple escort duty… Was there something she missed?

"Is this… an A Rank mission?" she whispered. The only chuunin level shinobi allowed on Rank A missions were medic-nins. Sakura knew that her abilities as a medic were superior in general, which gave her an impression of defensive overkill.

"Arghh!" Naruto pointed an accusing finger at his 'pervert-sensei', finally noticing that Sakura was being carried, much to her annoyance. Kakashi didn't even have time to respond to her inquiry.


"I wanna carry Sakura-chan!"

"Ah," he replied, but made no motions to set the girl down. Their teacher was good at irritating people. Sasuke watched in annoyance Naruto's bickering on how their ex-teacher didn't deserve Sakura before deciding to punch him in the head.

"Shut up." Though the kitsune dove into a heated argument, he understood the message in the Uchiha's red pupils: they had guests.

Author's Notes:
Hmm… Usually I write with actual paper and pencil first... But I haven't really written stories straight onto the computer. Well… it's something new.

Ah yes: Hopefully I'll be able to update on a weekly basis.