I know it took me longer to update… again. Sorry bout that. On a more positive note however, this chapter is longer then the usual ones (try over twice as long… seriously), so hopefully that would make it up to you the long wait.

Now, at first I figured this may be a one-timer, but then I thought about it and figured I'll let you guys decide. Now, the question is this: do you prefer for me to update chapters in the length they were up to now or would you like me to extend the chapter length and possibly (not necessary though… the fact that this chapter took so long to get submitted is mostly collage's fault, coz once my collage work was done, I managed to write like 80 porcent of this chappie in four days with long breaks) wait longer for an update? The choice is yours and just let me know which you prefer.

Now, as for this chapter itself: I must say I'm not entirely happy with it. Keeping Sai in character proven to be rather difficult, but considering that Grass Country arc in the manga was mostly about his evolution, staying true to his original self was my top priority. I hope I've managed to do that. Naturally however, as I hate to just repeat the manga completely, some events were altered or skipped. Nothing crucial, though you'll see differences between the manga and this chapter (I won't say anything, to not spoil). Also there are moments completely original (including NaruHina ones), which I hope you'll find enjoyable.

Also I wanna thank everyone who reviewed the previous chapter. It means a lot, though I must say that I'm also slightly disappointed with the number of reviews for last time and thus I'd like to ask everyone a favor to review this chapter, so that I'd know that even after the period when this fic was updated occasionally, you guys (and girls) are still interested in know what happens next.

With that said, I believe the only thing left for me to do is to get on with the 'show':

Chapter #19: New and Improved Team Number Seven

"What, a new mission already?" Kiba asked completely surprised, having Akamaru bark loudly as a sign that he agreed with his master. "But we only just got back from the Lighting Country!" the young Inuzuka reminded the Godaime as she sat behind her desk with her elbows on it and palms placed together before her mouth.

"I'm fully aware of that, however this is not my choice" Tsunade replied calmly, yet Hinata could've sworn she felt annoyance in the current Hokage's voice. "It'd appear that the team that was originally meant to complete that mission had other, important business and so the elders asked me to send another cell. Unfortunately, you're the only ones available at this moment, since Kakashi is still recovering and most jounin are on their own missions. This is an A-rank task, so I need a high rank shinobi on it. Kurenai, you're the only one I have left…"

"I understand, Tsunade-sama" the red-eyed woman bowed slightly as she glanced over at her female subordinate and a worried expression crossed her face. Her eyes then stopped at the blonde beside her and with a moment of hesitation, the genjutsu specialist asked: "There's still the issue of filling the empty spots in Kakashi's cell for their mission that is to come…"

"It appears the elders thought of that" the Godaime assured her as her gaze traveled to the Kyuubi vessel: "Naruto, the third member of your team has been assigned already. The elders convinced me that his skills are more then satisfactory and that whatever obstacles you will run into, he should be able to help you guys overcome it. As for the jounin that will take Kakashi's place… it's a man I myself have biggest faith in…"

"Yeah, whatever…" the blonde shoot back as disappointment filled him, yet he couldn't understand what caused it. After all, he was going to the Grass Country regardless. Hinata was doing much worse as she only lowered her head and stared at the floor. Kiba noticed that and a sad expression crossed his face as well. He knew what she wanted, but there was no way…

"Tsunade-sama, are all of us required to complete our new assignment?" Shino's voice suddenly filled the room, making both his teammates gaze at him surprise. Naruto only threw him a quick look, confused to no end, and then glanced back at the Hokage, who seemed to ignore the question at first sight, yet then smiled under her nose softly: "Why ask that?"

"The mission Kakashi-san's cell is going to is a very dangerous one" the bug user responded, keeping his usual, stone face. "And I do not want to be taken as someone who doubts the skills of the people chosen to accompany Naruto and Sakura on their mission, however going to the Grass Country, far away from Konoha, and risking running into Orochimaru makes their task A-rank as well and even with strong shinobi on the team, neither Naruto nor Sakura worked with them before, so teamwork may be lacking…"

"Yeah!" Kiba immediately understood what his friend was getting at and joined the conversation. "On such missions trust and teamwork are very important! All three of us know Sakura and Naruto since the Academy, so it'd be easier for them to work with one of us then total strangers! It was because we were supposed to aid them that Naruto tagged along and helped us with our mission in the first place!"

Tsunade only smiled as she realized what the two boys intention was. The Godaime slowly stood up and walked before her desk without saying a word. As she finally stood before the five, she leaned against the desk and spoke up: "Well, the team rooster has been decided already, however it's not said that the cell cannot have more members then a typical, gennin team, especially since none of the members are gennin… well, most at least" and with that she gazed at Naruto, who only frowned. The Legendary Leaf's smile widen even more at that and then she turned towards Kurenai: "Are you sure you'll manage to complete the task with a smaller number of subordinates though?"

"Shouldn't be a problem, Tsunade-sama" the genjutsu specialist replied immediately, bowing again and then send the two boys a smile. "But there's still the issue of which of them should stay to help…"

"Hinata seems like the best choice" Shino announced simply. "Since the objective is to bring Uchiha Sasuke back, her Byakugan might prove very useful in locating him, if something goes wrong or if the information given by that blonde from the Wind Country was false…"

"It's decided then" the Hokage smiled towards him and turned towards the white-eyed girl: "Hyuuga Hinata, starting tomorrow, until the time their newest mission is complete, you'll be supporting Kakashi's cell" and then she included Naruto in her sight as well, before saying: "You two are to appear at the northern gate of Konoha at seven in the morning tomorrow to meet up with the rest of your team and begin your mission. And as for you guys…" with that she looked at the rest of shinobi gathered in the room: "You have a little time to rest, however I expect that you'll go to carry out your task by the end of today…"

"Naturally, Tsunade-sama" Kurenai assured her and then headed towards the door with her subordinates following her. As the two boys walked pass Hinata, the girl managed a shy smile and loud enough only for them to hear her, she announced: "Thank you, Kiba-kun… Shino-kun…"

"Don't mention it" the dog ninja replied with a smile as he placed his hand on her head. "Just watch yourself, ladybird" and as he said so, the bug user glanced at him from behind his glasses, making the young Inuzuka sweat drop. "Oh get real, bug boy!"

---Some time later at the Konoha hospital---

Hinata slowly opened the door leading towards the recovery room, only to notice she wasn't the only one who decided to visit the man staying in it. As she closed the door behind her, she walked over to the pink-haired girl that stood right next to the bed, where a man with silver hair and a violet mask covering his mouth was sitting. His gazed stopped at the Hyuuga heiress and with a little sleepy voice, he announced: "I was already informed that you'll be tagging along with my subordinates to the Grass Country… I suppose it's a good thing, considering a Hyuuga can always prove very useful…"

The girl didn't reply. She just managed a weak nod as her face turned slightly red. Sakura smiled seeing this and then turned towards her instructor again, her face showing determination: "Kakashi-sensei, can you tell us now why were we called here? I still need to make preparations before our mission tomorrow…"

"This will only take a minute, however it is something that you both should know, considering what happened in the Wind Country. But what I tell you now must not leave this room and above anything Naruto cannot find out what I'm about to tell you" and as he looked the two kunoichi over to find out if they understood, he continued, much quieter then before: "It's about that boy you meet while fighting Akatsuki… it's about Kengo…"

---The next day---

Naruto, Sakura and Hinata came to their meeting spot at the gate first thing in the morning. Upon arrival, they noticed two figures already awaiting them. The first was a boy with black hair, wearing a black outfit that revealed his navel. He wore his hitae-ate on his forehead and carried a backpack with a handle wrapped in bandages sticking out of it.

The other figure was a man with spiky, black hair and hazel eyes. He wore a black shirt with a brown, chuunin vest on top of it and also had his headband located on his forehead. As Sakura took a closer look, she had a weird feeling this man resembled a little bit someone she knew, yet she couldn't place a finger.

"Ah, you're finally here" the man greeted them as he walked closer to the three. "My name is Yamato and I'll be replacing Kakashi-sempai as your team leader for the time being. Now, as I was informed, some of you know each other for a while now, but it's best to do our introductions again, just so that no-one will be left out" and once he said that the trio gave their names, each starring at the mysterious boy, who still haven't said nor even made a gesture to greet them. As his time came, he only replied, with a smile as fake as one can be: "My name is Sai".

"As most of you are aware, as team Kakashi we will be heading to the Grass Country to find the spy of Kengo's, which he mentioned in the scroll you obtained during your Wind Country mission" began Yamato calmly, ignoring the fact that Hinata still threw Sai suspicious looks. "We hope to get as much information from him as it'll be possible. If the worst should happen, we'll make an attempt to capture and interrogate him. By doing so we'll hope to acquire information about Orochimaru as well as Uchiha Sasuke's whereabouts. This mission is of high importance not only to retrieve your former teammate, but also to help the village get rid of Orochimaru's treat, so I do hope you'll act responsible. Lets move out!" and with that they went on their way. Most of them anyways.

Sakura instantly looked over her shoulder, to gaze at Sai, who stayed near the gate and hid something in his backpack before joining the others. The pink-haired kunoichi stared at him for a moment, but upon receiving a fake smile, she returned to observing the route before her. As she took her eyes off him, the older boy gazed at the ground beneath him as the memory of the events from the early morning flashed in his mind.

"It's hard for my to believe you're still carrying something like that around" the words of the masked ANBU from his division echoed in his head. "Have you already forgotten that in 'Roots' you have no name, no feelings, no future and no past? What you have is your mission and this time failure will not be tolerated! Do not let it interfere with your task…"

Sai's expression didn't change, even as those words rang in his mind. He raised his sight again and only then noticed Naruto glancing at him. The older boy stared back at him for a while and then asked with his voice as emotionless as his face: "Why are you looking at me?"

"Nothing really" the blonde replied, putting his hands behind his back. "It's just that we never met before and I'm curious as to what you can do. Considering we're teammates, at least for the time being, I figured we could talk to get to know each other…"

"Please stop starring at me then" Sai asked politely, yet his voice gave the Kyuubi vessel an impression that such tone was unnatural to him. "Otherwise I'll show you what I can do, by hurting you…" and the instant he said so, Naruto snapped, while his eyes widen. His sight froze at the older boy as if he tried to drill through him with his gaze: "What?"

"I knew we'll be teammates for a while and thus I've decided to read your data" Sai replied calmly, still not showing any trance of emotion. "Just like I learned about miss face ugly over there" with that he gave Sakura a quick gaze, making the pink-haired kunoichi literally lose it and if it wasn't for Hinata grabbing her in time, the older boy would receive a destructive punch in the face right there. "By doing so I realize that you're just a nuttless numbskull… with all the missions you went on, in order to get things done, you required backup. On your own you're not really worth much. The same goes for Face ugly back there…"

"You asshole" Naruto began as anger shook his body, yet before he could respond, the white-eyed girl cut in: "Umm… Sai-kun, I know that we just met you and being in a group where everyone know each other may make you feel isolated, but that sort of language isn't really appropriate for a situation like this. You're not making much of a first impression…"

"Quite frankly, neither are you…"

"That is quite enough!" announced Yamato in an ordering tone. "Teamwork and trust are the pillars of the team! Knowing Kakashi-san, he surely taught you this much! And I'm positive Kurenai-san gave your team the same lesson, Hinata… considering this it's hard for me to believe you're members of his team…"

"We are, but he's not!" yelled Naruto annoyed as he pointed at Sai. "The third member of our team is Sasuke! He's just a placeholder for him and I'll never accept him as a real teammate! The instant I tried to be friends with him, he threatened me! He's nothing like Sasuke!"

"That's quite alright" announced Sai after a moment of silence, once more giving out his fake smile. "This Sasuke person was a weakling, who in order to gain strength, betrayed his village and ran off to Orochimaru. Both him and the man he turned to for power, are fools and I'm actually grateful that you're not associating me with them… not like your opinion matters to me either way…"

"You bas-" the blonde took a single step forward, tightening his fist, yet at this time Sakura's hand suddenly appeared in his way. As he gazed to his right, he saw the pink-haired kunoichi standing beside him with a serious face, which instantly turned into a smile: "Yamato-sensei is right, at a mission like this teamwork is crucial. Sai, Naruto is pretty impulsive and he doesn't know you too well, thus he may have gone a bit too far and for that I apologize. However…" and in that very moment she charged forward, delivering a powerful punch into the older boy's face, thus sending him flying back.

As Sai whipped blood that came out of his lip, the young medic send him a death glare and settling her eyes on him, she announced with a fearful voice: "I will not allow you to speak ill of Naruto or Sasuke-kun! You know nothing about them and if I'll hear you badmouthing them, I'll really let you have it!"

"Fair enough" announced the boy, getting back to his feet, with a smile appearing on his face. "I shall not mention the Uchiha again. And I will also keep in mind how you used that phony smile…" and at this point Naruto snapped again: "Why the hell are you smiling, dammit? You just got creamed!"

"I read in a book that a smile is the best way to get out of difficult situations, coz even if it's fake, people will fall for it" Sai replied calmly without a change in his voice nor face. "Although it doesn't seem to be working now…"

In a flash Yamato performed a quick set of hand seals and instantly wooden bars arose from the ground, surrounding the four, surprised gennin: "This is not kinder garden" he announced calmly, leaning against his own creation. "We only have five days to get to the Bridge of Heaven and Earth and I will not allow your grudges to hold us back. Now, I'll give you two choices: you can either spend the night in there, getting to know each other and get along, or you can do so at the hot springs. I'm not the one to get carried away by emotions. I prefer to stay calm and rational, however I'm not above controlling people with terror either…" and with that he gazed at the quartet, sending shivers down their spines (A/N: well, all besides Sai that is) as the shadows made his face look even more grim.

---A while later, elsewhere---

Naruto sunk a bit deeper into the spring, making the water cover his mouth. Sai merely glance over at the blonde and once more showing his fake smile, he announced: "Well I'll be, you seem to have a set after all" and, as usual, that comment made the Kyuubi vessel snap again: "What the…? Quite starring at me, dammit! Can't you talk about anything else besides other people's dicks?"

"This is… embarrassing" announced Sakura sweat dropping as she and Hinata were using the hot spring right on the other side of a high, wooden fence. She glanced over at the white-eyed girl with a bored face: "Those two will never get along, I can tell you this much. Naruto's too impulsive and Sai don't give a damn…"

"It's a wonder why he's acting like that" the Hyuuga heiress replied with a tiny drop of concern in her voice. "It's not like he's acting just like he didn't care… it's as if he doesn't show emotions at all and if he tries to, he fails miserably. That smile of his from before, his polite tone… they're nowhere near natural…"

"Yeah, he's really weird… and that coming from a girl who got teamed up with Naruto and Kakashi-sensei" she added, giving out a smile at her joke. Hinata replied with a smirk as well, before announcing: "This is what Sai-kun seems to be lacking... it's not just that he's closed, but I can't even trace a tiny drop of joy in him…"

"Well, at the moment I'm more concerned with Yamato-sensei really" stated the young medic as she glanced at the sky that now turned red while the sun began hiding behind the horizon. "That wooden cage he created… that was the Shodai Hokage's Mokuton, however for all I know, Tsunade-sama's grandfather was the only one capable of performing it. That brings a question as to how Yamato-sensei can do it, does it?" and with that she turned towards her companion, yet the white-eyed girl didn't reply. Not because she didn't want to, but because she had no answer.

Soon after the night ell upon them, decorating the sky with hundreds of shining stars and a crescent moon. Sakura left the hot spring some time ago, yet Hinata decided to stay for a longer while for no, particular reason. As the air started to get cold, the young heiress figured she overdid it a bit and slowly began to head back to her room as well. She quickly wrapped herself in a towel and got back inside. Yet only after reaching the wardrobe did she realize that her clothes were gone.

"It's not very funny, Sakura-san" she thought to herself with a sad expression crossing her face for a split second. She slowly took a pick into the hallway and noticing no-one there, she decided to make a run for it. She speed through the narrow halls of the inn, hoping to avoid contact with anyone, sadly she didn't manage to do that as turning behind another corner he bumped into someone and landed on her butt.

"I'm very sorry!" she apologized immediately as she stood back up and began to bow nervously, embarrassed to no end. Only after a while did she realized who she bumped into: "N-Naruto-kun?" she asked surprised, seeing the blonde gennin on the floor, rubbing his behind, which seemed to suffer from the fall.

The instant he heard his name, the whisker-marks raised his sight and noticed his companion looking at him with concern, leaning over towards him. However bending over turned out to be the girl's mistake as Naruto's attention was quickly drawn away from her face to different parts of her body as he realized she was only wearing a towel.

The two stayed like that for a while, with the blonde staring before himself, red all over, and then girl glancing at him, slightly confused. Finally the Kyuubi vessel regained his senses and panicking, he instantly spun around on his butt, now showing the white-eyed girl his back. As his heart started to race almost as if wanted to jump out of his chest, the boy manage to speak up, gulping loudly before doing so: "H-Hinata-chan, why… why are you only wearing a towel?" he asked nervously and only then did the Hyuuga heiress remembered why she was running through the hallway in the first place.

Instinctually she hid behind the corner and sticking out her head, she replied, now joining the blushing contest: "I… well, my clothes disappeared, so I didn't had any choice…" and with that she covered her mouth: "Such an embarrassment… and in front of Naruto-kun too!" she cried in her mind.

Meanwhile, in Naruto's head, thoughts were completely different: "No dirty thoughts, no dirty thoughts, no dirty thoughts!" he reminded himself as he tried to recall anything unpleasant or disgusting to wipe the image he just saw: "Lets see… fly in ramen… Akamaru's stench… Lee's eyebrows… yeah, that works" he sighed in relief as he turned again to look at the girl. Immediately he took off his jumpsuit and placed it on the kunoichi's back, wrapping her in it: "Here, this'll do until you get to your room" he announced, his face still red as a beetroot.

"Thank you, Naruto-kun" she replied and went on her way. In a record time she got to her room and located herself on the other side of the door, redder then every. Sakura gazed at her as she came in, slightly confused. The white-eyed girl gave her an angry look, before she spoke: "That wasn't very funny, Sakura-san…"

"Meaning what?" the pink-haired kunoichi asked, even more confused then she already was. The Hyuuga heiress lustrated her with her eyes for a moment, and sensing that her companion was really clueless as to what she meant, her worry grew: "But if it wasn't you nor was it one of Naruto-kun's jokes, then who took my clothes?"

Time went by and soon the night fell, making everyone forget the incident. Well, everyone besides Naruto, who albeit Lee's eyebrows, still couldn't help but have trouble sleeping as he turned from one side to the other on his bed, while a very specific image kept on appearing in his head: "This is not good" he thought to himself as he stared at the ceiling, once he gave up the idea of sleeping. "All of a sudden I felt like I'm in one of ero-sennin's stupid books! ARGH, Hinata-chan's gonna kill me if I won't overcome this! But what can I do, even the eyebrows stopped working! I know!" and with that he turned to his left, where Sai was supposed to be sleeping, but to his surprise, the older boy was not there. "Where the hell did that asshole disappeared to and at this hour?"

Meanwhile the older boy sat at the edge of the inn's roof, looking through a picture book. As he heard a suspicious noise, he instantly hid the book in his backpack again and gazed over his shoulder, noticing Hinata, now in her spare clothes. The older boy did not say a word as the white-eyed girl came closer, he just stared at her blankly, with his usual, emotionless face.

"Why are you out here all by yourself at this hour, Sai-kun?" the kunoichi asked politely with a little worried voice. The boy kept on starring at her for a while longer, before he decided to respond: "Actually, I could ask you the same thing" he announced, getting back to his feet. The instant he said so, Hinata narrowed her eyes slightly, yet replied regardless: "I saw you with my Byakugan from my room… when on a dangerous mission, when you see someone who's suppose to be your companion, yet doesn't act like one, away from the group, it's natural you get suspicious…"

"So, I'm not trustworthy then?" asked the older boy, once again putting on his fake smile. For a brief second the Hyuuga heiress felt like her companion was teasing her, but shook it off. Her eyes narrowed even more as she answered: "No, you're not. You're not giving us any reason to trust you really. Now answer my question…"

"I just wanted to breath some cool, night air… and maybe stare at the stars" Sai replied without a moment of hesitation, yet his fake smile gave the impression he hid something. Hinata's eyes traveled to his backpack for a second and then back to the painter's pupils, as she asked another question: "That book you was looking at… what was it? Something important perhaps?"

"I'm afraid you're mistaken" the boy responded, widening his smirk. "When it comes to me, there's nothing that can be called 'important' besides my mission. That is who I am… and that book you're referring to… it's just something that I didn't felt like throwing away…"

"In other words you do not wish to lose it…"

"That's not it" Sai corrected her calmly, yet the expression on his face gave her a thought that keeping his fake smile got a bit harder for her companion. "It just felt inappropriate to leave it behind… that's all…"

"It's still the same" the girl noticed, making the painter get rid of his smile and return to being emotionless again. "If something's important to us, we do not wish to lose it for whatever reason we may have. Be it a person or a simple thing, we always want to have it by our side, even if we do not show it. And just like that, you've proven that you're not that different from any of us…"

"That's not right…"

"Then why don't you throw that book away right here, right now?" the white-eyed kunoichi kept on pushing. "If that book really possess no meaning for you… if it's just a useless item… what pushes you to carry it around?"

At those words Sai hesitated for a moment. The words of a certain ANBU ranged in his head again as he slowly reached for his backpack and picking out his picture book, he threw it of the roof. Hinata looked surprised as the book disappeared in the nearby bushes. With that the boy put his baggage onto his back and as he walked pass the girl, he stopped for a brief moment, announcing: "That is who I am… the only thing that's important, is my mission. All, other things, are less then secondary to me" and with that went back inside, leaving the shocked kunoichi to herself.

---The next morning---

Sakura yawned as she stretched herself. The first sunrays merely began to enter the room as she got up and put on her clothes. The pink-haired kunoichi turned towards her companion, but Hinata was still asleep, thus she decided not to wake her. She approached the window to look outside and instantly noticed someone sitting near the stairs. Only upon looking closer did she realize that it was Sai.

"Sai? You're drawing a picture?" she asked as she approached the older boy. Without waiting for a reply she leaned and looked over his shoulder. To her surprise however the drawing her new teammate made was basically just a collection of lines of various shapes and thickness. "You have a really bad mouth, but there is a delicate side of you, I see" she announced, smiling towards the painter.

"This smile of yours… you're not gonna knock me down again, are you?" the older boy asked, once more using his fake smirk. In response the pink-haired kunoichi gave a wicked smile and then replied: "Maybe later… right now I only came here to see your painting, coz I wondered what it was. To be honest I'm quite surprised: sitting in this place and gazing at the forest one would think you'd be drawing a landscape and this is abstraction. What's the title of this picture?"

"Who knows?" came a response and as Sakura asked if he still haven't decided, Sai simply continued: "It's not that… although I drew thousands of pictures, never before have I given any a name…"

"That's odd" stated the young medic after glancing at his surprised for a moment. "Usually the artist give a name to his paintings. In case of a portrait it's the person's name and if not it's usually the situation at the moment, his own mood or feelings…"

"Then naming my drawings like that would not be possible for me anyway" Sai replied simply, dropping his fake smile for a split second as he did so. "Even if I were to accurate a title to it, I wouldn't be able to… when it comes to feelings… nothing occurs to me…" and at this point the pink-haired girl's eyes widen as she gazed at him again. She never even realized that some else walked over to them.

"Yamato-sensei asked to get you guys" announced Naruto, throwing Sai an irritated look. "We'll be leaving soon" and with that his eyes stopped at the picture. His eyes narrowed and with an uncaring voice, he said to no-one in particular: "This drawing isn't anything much…"

"No, it's not, isn't it?" the older boy responded, once more with a fake smile. "Just like your dick" and at this anger once again built up in the blonde: "I'll say this from the bottom of my heart!" Naruto announced, pointing his finger at Sai. "I hate you!" and with that he spun on his foot, turning his back towards the painter and crossed his arms. "I seriously can't stand you! That stupid, fake smile and behavior! For crying out loud, if you got a problem, say it straight and speak your mind, dammit!"

"Sorry, but that's not it" Sai replied calmly, yet didn't drop his smile. "I really don't think anything of you" and with that he slowly got back to his feet, picking up his things while the blonde did his best to restrain himself. "You go ahead, I'll join you as soon as I'll gather everything…"

"I'll help you" Sakura announced after a moment of hesitation as she picked up a certain picture book. Upon looking at the cover, which presented a boy, she gazed at the painter again, this time with a question: "This isn't a print, did you also draw this?" at that Sai merely gave a nod before taking his book back and placing it into his backpack quickly, while he noted Hinata coming towards them. "This book…" the young medic began, slightly uncomfortable. "You think you could show it to me sometime while we're on our way?"

"I'm afraid that's impossible, since it is not yet complete" Sai replied, for the first time this day dropping his fake smile. His face once more became emotionless, yet the Hyuuga heiress saw something more in it. The painter settled his eyes on her for a split second, before returning to look at the pink-haired kunoichi: "Also, that is not something that can be handed to other people. The picture on the cover… is my brother" and with that he put his backpack on, before walking pass the trio.

---A while later---

The group walked through the forest, nearing the meeting spot with Kengo's spy. As the others went a little ahead, Naruto slowed down to find himself next to Hinata. As the girl gazed at him, they both looked away, blush covering their faces. The blonde swallowed his saliva as he felt getting nervous. Sweat drops began appearing on his face, while he spoke up, carefully picking every word: "You know, Hinata-chan… about last night…"

"Yes, umm…" the white-eyed kunoichi replied, playing with her fingers as she threw her eyes all over the forest as if she tried to find a way to get out of this uncomfortable situation. "Last night… umm… maybe it'd be best if… well… we'd just forget about it?" she purposed hopefully as the image from the hallway flashed in her mind, thus making her embarrassment grow.

"If only I could" Naruto thought to himself with guilt as he stared at the sky while he blush deepened. He shook his head, trying to throw out a certain image, that once more popped into his head and upon achieving success, he responded: "Yeah, I… I guess that'd be for the best" he announced with a little too wide smile, for it to be natural.

"This place will do" announced Yamato suddenly as he dropped his backpack in the middle of a small meadow surrounded with trees, but breaking the conversation between the two. Hearing this, Naruto glanced at the man confused and seeing this, the wood user continued: "I already told you as we left the village that our mission is to capture and interrogate the target. In order to do so, we need to avoid inflicting any, lethal injuries upon him or her, even if the situation will progress into a fight. If we are to fail, we'll lose a very valuable source of information and that is why I'll go in first and the rest of you will work as my backup. The plan is simple: first I'll try to restrain the target and if I'll prove incapable of doing so I'll give you a signal to come in and support me. In case of a fight, we'll attack in pairs, where one person will be the main attack and the other will provide backup for his actions. The pairs will be me and Sakura… and Naruto with Sai…"

"I disagree!" yelled the Kyuubi vessel, pointing at the older boy. "Why do I have to…"

"Sakura is the only medical ninja on our team" Yamato interrupted him calmly, yet send the blonde a warning glare. "We can't afford to let her get injured and thus she'll be coming with me" and upon hearing this, Sai gave away another of his fake smiles: "No objections then?" he asked, turning towards Naruto, which made the whisker-marks even angrier.

He quickly calmed down this time however as he realized Hinata dropping her head. Sensing what was wrong, he immediately spoke again: "Wait, Yamato-sensei, you forgot about Hinata-chan!" but the man only gazed at the Hyuuga heiress and with his voice still calm, he replied: "Not at all. With her Byakugan she's perfect for scouting. While we'll try to carry out the capture part of our mission, she'll be on the lookout for possible ambush or enemies. Also, if the target would be to somehow escape us, we'll be counting on you to keep a trace on him…" and with that he send the girl a questioning look. The white-eyed kunoichi only nodded, disappointed she wouldn't be able to help her companions in a fight.

"Also, seeing how things went up till now, I can tell you could use a little practice in teamwork" the older man continued, gaining the boys attention. "I need to know what fighting styles you use, what kind of battle skills do you possess, along with the techniques you're capable of performing. This will also be a chance for you to observe me closely. This meadow will be our training ground… now, I'll give you a minute to hide and the girls to stand away. After that we'll begin our sparring…"

The minute passed away rather quickly and as Yamato stood ready in the meadow, two blurs suddenly jumped out of the bushes surrounding it. The first to come was Naruto, who engaged his leader with a spin kick, yet the older man easily ducked under the assault and swipe the blonde off his feet. Before he crushed against the ground however, the whisker-marks managed to prop himself against the surface with his hands and bounce off of it.

As Yamato gazed after the Kyuubi vessel, who flew into the air, Sai charged in, aiming to hit his captain with an opened palm. The older man managed to react in time however and quickly spun on his foot, grabbing the painter by the wrist as his back now faced the boy. In a flash the wood user reached with his other hand behind his back and grabbing the "Roots" member by the shirt, he spun again, dragging Sai with him.

Upon making a full circle, Yamato let go of the boy, thus sending him flying, yet the painter managed to flip in mid-air and came to a sliding stop, unharmed. It was then that Naruto attacked again with his fist. The older man acted immediately and leaning forward, he threw his leg back, thus kicking the blonde's fist to the sky.

Surprised by this, the whisker-marks slowed down for a split second, yet that was enough for Yamato to act: in a flash he propped himself on the ground and standing on his hands, he threw his other leg straight at the blonde. Giving in to the instinct, the Kyuubi vessel jumped up and placing his hand on the leg that was about to kick him, he used it to spin around and landed before his captain, aiming to knee him in the back.

With no, other way to dodge, Yamato bounced off the ground, away from Naruto's attack. In the very same instant Sai appeared above the blonde and grabbing him by the shoulders, he somersaulted, taking the whisker-marks with him. Before the wood user shaken his shock, the painter tossed his teammate straight at the older man, making the Kyuubi vessel come at him at an incredible speed.

Not having enough time to dodge, Yamato blocked the assault with his hands, however the instant Naruto's kick connected with his arms, the blonde bounced back and flipped in mid-air, allowing Sai to run bellow him. Still trying to keep his balance after the Kyuubi vessel's attack, the wood user's eyes widen at the sight of the painter's fist coming from below straight at his chin.

In a desperate attempt, Yamato bended back, completely losing his balance and as he began to fell, he propped himself on his right hand, while Sai's attack hit air. Breaking the fall with his hand, the man's feet went flying at the painter, who was forced to back away in order to avoid the assault.

Instantly Yamato flipped back to his feet, only to see Naruto forming a spinning orb of chakra in Sai's hand. Knowing what was coming, the older man acted immediately and with a quick set of hand seals, wood shoot from the ground, wrapping itself around the painter, thus immobilizing him.

Upon getting trapped, Sai turned into surprised Naruto, while the other blonde somersaulted over him and pinned Yamato to the ground. Seeing an opening, the older boy, hiding in the bushes, drew a black snake on the scroll beneath his legs and with a quick set of hand seals, he called out: "Ninpou: Choujuu Gika!"

Right before Hinata's eyes the snake came to life and slipped out of the scroll, going straight at Naruto and Yamato. Upon reaching them, it wrapped itself around the two, trapping both. As it did so, the man's body turned into a wooden dummy with a cross on the place where his face should be, and a huge kanji for 'wrong' where the Leaf symbol should be located.

"What the hell?" Naruto yelled out loud. "Why did you wrapped me too? Untie me!" but to his great annoyance, Sai only turned around and with a simple 'he's over there', he disappeared, leaving trapped blonde behind: "Dammit Sai, untie me!"

A while later Sai came out of the forest, holding Yamato's hands behind the man's back. The captain's face remained calm, as he announced: "Well done, Sai. You got me and thus our exercise is over…" but before he could say anything else, Naruto stormed towards the painter and grabbed him by the shirt, for the first time since they left Konoha truly boiling.

"What?" Sai asked him with an emotionless face as he gazed at the hand that held his shirt. His eyes raised to look into the blonde's, while anger kept on growing inside the whisker-marks boy: "Have you ever heard of a word friend?" he asked with a deep voice, calming himself in the last moment before launching a fist into the older boy's face.

Sai simply reached to his pocket and picking out a small scroll, he wrote something on it. Upon turning it towards Naruto, the blonde realized it was a kanji for 'friend'. As his blue eyes traveled back to the painter's emotionless face again, the older boy spoke up: "Of course I have. What about it?" she asked, making Naruto's anger return, with full force. "You shouldn't blame others for your own weaknesses. Using Kage Bushin disguised as me and then using it to perform this big jutsu of yours… that gave everything away. At the very same moment, your plan had no chance of success and thus I found it useless to support your actions. I base my decision on what I think is best for my mission…"

Naruto's anger truly reached his peek. Hinata noticed her crush's eyes turn red for a split second, before he let go of Sai's shirt and turned his back towards the painter, as he announced, doing his best to hold back his anger: "I'll never accept you as a team member… nor as a friend!"

"Then what do you suppose Sasuke would do?" the older boy asked suddenly, putting his fake smile again. "Waste his chance and help you out because you're his friend and teammate? After everything, he's the one who betrayed the village and injured you… it wonders me how can you still call him your friend…"

"And what the hell do you know about companionship?" the blonde shoot back, turning around, his face still showing anger, yet his voice calm. "By the way you're acting I can tell you never thought of anyone more then as an acceptable sacrifice. I don't expect someone of your kind to understand this, however I can tell you this: to save a friend, I'll do anything, even work with you!"

"Well, you're right about one thing" Sai admitted, still smiling. "I don't understand why you're willing to go that far for someone such as that Uchiha…"

"The bond between them is deeper then you think" Sakura cut in, gaining the painter's attention, along with Hinata's. "Naruto thinks of Sasuke as a brother. That you should be able to understand, considering you have an older brother too" but to her surprise, Sai merely lowered his head slightly, before responding: "Not really… back then it was just us talking about titles of paintings… in actuality, I don't have any emotions at all…"

"You can't be serious, Sai-kun" Hinata interfered a little shyly. "When it comes to family… I mean, since you have a brother, you must be able to imagine how you'd feel if he died" she announced, to her surprise making the painter's fake smile disappear for a split second.

However it was back on his face in a flash as he replied after a moment of thought: "I guess… since my brother's already dead" and at this point the Hyuuga heiress eyes widen. She felt embarrassed for saying what she did and with the most comforting voice she could manage, she came to her companion with an attempt to put her hand on his should: "If so, there's no need for you to…" but she was broke off by the older boy:

"Would it be better if I showed a face like this?" he asked, showing something between a frown and worry. Silence felt among them, broken by Sai himself: "At the time my brother died, I truly didn't know what sort of face I should make" he announced, putting his backpack on again and following Naruto, who was already few meters away from the group.

Hinata gazed after the older boy, both sadness and worry showing on her face. She exchanged glances with Sakura and stayed like that, until Yamato announced it was time to move out.

---Some time later at the Heaven and Earth Bridge---

Naruto glanced at the huge, wooden bridge, hanging above what seemed to be a bottomless canyon. The passage between the supporting lines that held it in place went up from every end of the construction. The passage itself was wide enough for several people to stand next to each other and still would allow them to walk to the other side of the canyon.

Tens of lines, holding the bridge from both sides, were tied up one of two, even more massive ones, that went just few meters above the bridge's passage, hanging parallel to it. Those ropes were tied to huge trees located on both sides of the canyon and were supposed to keep the construction immobile, regardless to everything. The Kyuubi vessel also noticed black rails on both sides of the passage.

Kengo walked towards the center of the bridge, where a mysterious, hooded man stood. The man raised his head, revealing that he was actually a man in his twenties with silver hair and glasses. Naruto, who observed the whole scene from behind the rock in the distance, widen his eyes: "Impossible! Kabuto is that blonde bastard's spy?" and with that he leaned slightly forward, but to his great dismal, he heard nothing: "Dammit, the wind's too strong to catch what they're saying…"

"That's why we've been able to get this close, idiot" Sakura responded, glancing over at the Kyuubi vessel. "Sounds and smells are carried by the wind!" and as the two began arguing, Hinata suddenly shoot up with fear showing on her face. As the blonde looked at her with worry, she only called out from the bottom of her lungs: "Yamato-sensei, it's a trap!"

Upon hearing that, Kengo glanced in the direction the voice came, allowing Kabuto to unleash his kunai straight at the blonde. As a whistling sound reach his ears, the former leaf-nin strafed to his left, only to be caught by Orochimaru, who appeared out of nowhere and throwing his right hand towards released a net of snakes, which wrapped themselves around the boy.

In a flash Kengo's hands and legs got immobilized, while the snakes kept on moving up and upon reaching the neck, one of them bite it, making the blonde instantly turn into a wooden dummy. Seeing this Orochimaru narrowed his eyes as a wicked smile crossed his face: "Kawarimi using mokuton ninjutsu… I wonder if this guy could be…?"

"I was found out this soon, even though we only got to exchange few words?" Yamato asked, now settling his eyes on the two. Kabuto merely smirked, before replying: "Not quite… I'm not sure why you showed up here, pretending to be that boy, but our true objective was to get rid of Sasori" and at this point the leaf-nin's eyebrow went up, while the silver-haired boy continued: "I was one of Sasori's puppets and not so long ago he send me a message to meet him here…"

"I don't get it then" announced Yamato calmly. "If that is so, you should be still under Sasori's spell…"

"About that" Kabuto began, his devilish smile still not disappearing from his face. "Orochimaru-sama freed me from it quite a while ago… and after that, I've decided to become Orochimaru-sama's servant in order to show my respect to his magnificent way of thinking. I'm not under anyone's spell anymore. This is the path I choose myself. With you showing up, I don't suppose we can expect Sasori to appear… plus, we're not the only ones here, so how about you tell your companions to join us?"

Without a word, Yamato made a quick motion. In a flash the four shinobi jumped out of the bushes and landed between him and the two sound-nins, going into their fighting stances the moment they landed.

"Oh, even the Kyuubi is here" noticed Orochimaru with a playful smile as he licked his lips. "This may be interesting. How about we play a little game… I'll tell you, after all those years, who got stronger: you or Sasuke-kun…"

"Give Sasuke back!" the blonde yelled immediately, tightening his fists. At hearing this, Kabuto merely widen his smile: "I'm afraid you misunderstand the situation, Naruto-kun. This is not the matter of us giving anything back. Sasuke-kun came to us under his own, free will. If you want my opinion, you should get over it and start taking the past for what it is, as a real man would…"

"Or, if you want us to tell you about Sasuke-kun, how about forcing us to do so?" Orochimaru teased, making Naruto charge at him, picking out his kunai. As the blonde swung his knife at him, the legendary sennin jumped to his right, avoiding the attack, and releasing another snake from his sleeve, which this time jumped straight at the Kyuubi vessel's throat.

Acting on instinct, the whisker-marks tilted his head left and as the reptile flew next to it, he grabbed its tail, making it hiss madly. In a flash he spun the snake over his head and then tossed it straight at the surprised Kabuto, thus forcing him to jump back. It was then that Hinata stepped into action and threw her opened palm at the silver-haired boy's back.

Incapable of changing direction in the air, the sound-nin flipped and hit the girl's wrist from below, thus making her attack go right above his back. Upon coming to a sliding stop, he spun on his foot, aiming to swipe the white-eyed kunoichi off her feet, yet she managed to avoid the assault by grabbing Kabuto's shoulder and using it to lift herself up. As her body located itself parallel to the bridge, she twisted the medic's shoulder, delivering her knee into his face.

As he felt being blown away, the silver-haired boy grabbed the young Hyuuga by the ankle, thus making her lose her balance before landing and having her crush her face against the bridge as her rolled on it for few meters before coming to a stop.

Sakura joined the battle immediately and aimed a drop kick at the boy's head, yet the sound-nin managed to avoid the assault by jumped forward. In a flash he got back to his feet, picking out a kunai. Meanwhile the pink-haired kunoichi's foot crushed against the bridge, making it crumble a bit: "Dammit, on such a battlefield I need to hold back, otherwise we'll all end up at the bottom of that canyon!" she reminded herself, glad she didn't put much chakra into her last kick.

Hinata tried to stand up, but the instant she did so, intense pain shoot from her ankle, which brought her back to her knees. The white-eyed girl gazed surprised at her leg and only then did she realized what happened: "My muscles! So that time, when he grabbed my ankle, he used chakra scalpel! This is not good! At this point I can't move freely!"

Meanwhile Naruto kept charging at Orochimaru, unleashing a storm of attacks at the sound-nin. Upon forcing the sennin back, the blonde suddenly jumped forward and somersaulting in the process, he aimed a scissor kick at the man's neck. Surprised by this the Legendary Leaf didn't manage to dodge in time and in stead spit out a snake. As his body felt motionless to the ground after receiving the attack, the reptile opened its mouth, thus releasing Orochimaru out of its body, covered in strange liquid.

Unmoved by this, the Kyuubi vessel instantly spun on his foot and threw a punch straight into his opponent's stomach. As the attack connected, the Legendary sennin bended over due to the impact and opened his mouth, which seemed to be a gasp for air, yet in the next instant tens of snakes escaped his lips, each going after the blonde.

In a flash Naruto performed his standard technique, creating a clone, which appeared before him, thus blocking the snakes way. Instantly the bushin got wrapped by snakes, which started biting it all over, thus getting it dispelled. As white smoke covered the reptiles, the blonde quickly picked out another kunai and wrapping an explosive tag around it, he threw it in the pile a venomous creatures.

As the note exploded, sending snakes flying in every direction, the bridge shook again, making Orochimaru loose his balance. Naruto saw that as his chance and immediately jumped forward, forming a Rasengan in his right hand. As the spinning orb came closer, the Legendary Sennin leaned forward and to the blonde's surprise, his torso extended. While the attack went over him, the former leaf-nin twisted his upper body and wrapped it around the whisker-marks boy.

In a flash Orochimaru's grip tightened, making Naruto wince as pain shoot from his chest. A silent crack was heard, making the Legendary Leaf hiss with joy, once more licking his lips. Seeing this Yamato acted immediately and with a quick chain of hand seals, wooden spikes shoot from the bridge, each aiming to pierce through the missing-nin.

Instantly Orochimaru's mouth opened and hands came out of it. As they pushed something up, another Legendary Sennin flew right out of the old one, leaving him getting pierced by the spikes. As the body around him became flabby, Naruto broke loose and jumped at the rail. Bouncing off it, he came at the new sound-nin at an amazing speed, yet the former Leaf shinobi was ready.

With a quick spit Orochimaru's tongue shoot out, holding the handle of his katana. Being in mid-air, the blonde had no way to dodge. As his eyes widen, Hinata acted immediately and jumped towards him: "Naruto-kun!" she cried out as her elbow hit the Kyuubi vessel, thus pushing him out of the blade's way.

As the sword came closer, she released chakra from her body and tried to spin, yet sadly the foot she used was the same Kabuto grabbed and upon trying to spin, pain shoot through her leg, making her lose both her balance and concentration. As the chakra sphere around her vanished, her body went to her left, right before her right shoulder got cut by the katana.

The Hyuuga heiress took a single step back, hoping to keep her balance, but that proven to be a mistake as she bumped into the rail behind her and flipped over it. Before anyone managed to act she was already beneath the bridge, falling down at an incredible speed.

"Hinata-chan!" Naruto only managed to yell as he ran towards the edge of the bridge and leaned over the supporting lines, yet the Hyuuga heiress figure already became a small dot and soon after it disappeared from his view in what seemed to be bottomless hole. The blonde's body began shaking as this as his grip on the line tightened to the extend his skin on his palms became red.

"Oh, I missed" commented Orochimaru with a wicked smirk as a pleased expression crossed his face. He licked his lips with an overly long tongue, while his smile widened. "I'm terribly sorry, Naruto-kun. Was that a friend of yours?" he asked teasingly and was about to add something, but then felt the air suddenly getting heavier. He knew this feeling, but for some reason, this time around it seemed way more frightening then how he remembered it. Or maybe it truly was different? It was hard to tell, but one thing was for sure: the killer intent was overwhelming.

"You think this is funny?" asked Naruto, without turning around, as his body shook even more. "Taking away lives like it's nothing… you really lost yourself, you freak. If the situation was a little different, I might've even pitied you, but you shouldn't count on that anymore. First Sasuke and now this… I'm done watching you taking everyone away from me and people I care about! This time I will not forgive!" and with that he turned to face the legendary sennin with his eyes shining red and his whisker-marks more visible then usual. His teeth turned into fangs as his nails grew in length.

Sakura took several steps back, horrified by the sight, while Sai merely gazed at the blonde, yet his face still shown no emotions, not even fake ones. Yamato narrowed his eyes at the sudden turn of events: "This is not good! Releasing such a huge among of Kyuubi's chakra there's no way he'll manage to keep control! This is just like Jiraiya-sama described it!"

"Orochimaru, I make you a promise" Naruto announced, making Sakura notice a change in his voice. It was much deeper then his usual one. And much more scary. "For everyone you killed… for everyone you hurt… and for doing what you did to Sasuke and Hinata… you will not leave here alive!"

---fury takes over Naruto… and his target's Orochimaru!---

And this concludes this chapter. Hope you enjoyed it and that you'll leave a review. It'd really make my day. Also, there was a technique used in this chappie, but considering that one's from the manga, I'll just give you a translation this time:

Ninpou: Choujuu Gika (Ninja Art: Great Beast Mimic)

And that's that for now. Thanks for stopping by and reading. Best wishes and until next time!