For Someone Important... Almost three years have passed since Uchiha Sasuke's betrayal of Konoha. But now that he has mysteriously returned to his old home, what awaits him and his companions as they try to mend what has been broken? Sasuke+Sakura, Neji+Tenten, Naruto+Hinata, Shikamaru+Ino, and Kakashi+Kurenai.

---------- Chapter 04: The Mission ----------

Sasuke raised his ebony eyes to the gate of Training Ground #44, anticipation building in his stomach. He frowned slightly before looking to either side; Tsunade had said that their two teammates would be around this place, but there was no one around nor had they passed anyone on their way there.

Sakura narrowed her emerald eyes in thought, "Ne... Maybe they're just late. We should wait for them to get here."

"Aa."

Naruto dropped down into a sitting position on the ground, folding his arms behind his head. "I don't know who they are, but what could those guys be thinking, dattebayo!" he stated rather than asked, causing Sakura to sigh a bit as Sasuke turned his head toward the direction they had come from previously.

Within moments, two forms came into view; over the next few seconds, they gradually became more clearly visible until they stopped a few feet behind the recently reunited Team 7(minus Kakashi); Naruto and Sakura both turned around also after noticing that Sasuke was already staring.

Could it be the mythical partners the Hokage had spoke of?

As the two stepped into view, Sasuke sweatdropped in realization. You're kidding, right? he thought quietly to himself before lowering his head just a bit. He had to calm down and graciously accept whoever the teammates were, and it was true that it could have been worse...

Whatever, I don't care -- as long as I complete this test successfully, he reassured himself with an inaudible sigh.

"Oh, Gai-sensei! They've already arrived!" Lee exclaimed, pointing an index finger toward Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto. He then looked over at Sasuke individually; he had almost forgotten -- Sasuke had returned! "Sasuke-kun, what Neji said is true -- you're back!" he exclaimed.

"I've heard some rumors." Sasuke muttered dully in response; he'd heard so many people tell him he was back already, and really he was getting tired of it. It was true, but still...

The dark haired youth was brought from his thoughts when Gai knocked Lee on the back of the head to get his attention. "Lee, I have won the guessing game, so you must do six hundred single handed push-ups!" he reminded.

"Yes!" Lee said and saluted affirmatively before dropping down and beginning to do his push-ups immediately. Gai then flashed a Good Guy pose toward Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto.

"Are you... our teammates for this mission?" Sakura finally asked uncertainly, feeling somewhat incredulous. Would Tsunade have really selected those two? Gai laughed a bit in reaction to Sakura's question.

"Of course not, we just came to wish you well -- since they were coming anyway!" he explained, causing Sakura to blink and glance at Naruto then Sasuke.

Sasuke paused. "So then, who--"

"We are."

The three ninja all turned their heads in the direction of a very familiar voice to see an equally familiar duo approaching from behind Gai and Lee.

Neji stopped a couple of feet away from Sasuke and the others and closed his eyes as Tenten stepped up beside him. She smiled encouragingly, "Well, what are we waiting for? You guys have a deadline to meet, right?" she asked. A minute or so of confused silence passed before Sakura grinned slightly. She had to admit she felt happy to have another female on the team.

The pink haired girl laughed somewhat sheepishly then, "I have to say, I wasn't expecting you guys; I figured that Kakashi-sensei would be coming!" she admitted. Neji cracked his pearl colored eyes back open enough to look at Sasuke, who only looked back at him in reaction.

"If this mission is successful and you are promoted to the Chuunin rank," Neji began, before curling his lips up in a slight smirk, "then you owe me a sparring match... Sasuke."

Sasuke waited a minute before mirroring Neji's smile and turning once again to face the unlocked gate into the Forest of Death. "I'll be looking forward to it," he responded quietly, making Sakura smile also as she thrust her right arm into the air. It felt nice to know that they were getting along so well -- she supposed, for a ninja at least, a sparring match was a good sign.

"Then it's time to start!"

-----

"So, it's two kilometers northeast of our destination last time." Tenten observed after having stepped inside the ominous collection of trees.

"Right. There's supposed to be some kind of scroll for us to find there." Sakura added, running back over the details of the mission in her mind once again. "So, now, the biggest question is..."

"What is the best method to approach this situation." Neji finished for her as he folded his arms contemplatively. They had stopped just inside to formulate a strategy, and they obviously needed to finish doing so as soon as possible in order to then execute the created plan. After all, they were on a rather strict schedule this time around.

"We've seen the terrain before, but we can't be certain what kinds of new traps or ambushes there are." Sasuke inserted, with a thoughtful frown.

Tenten looked upwards, "Soshite, Godaime-sama could have even arranged the appearance of enemy ninja inside the forest to make up for the lack of contestants in the Chuunin Exam three years ago."

Meanwhile, Naruto's head whirled in confusion; his companions had already lost him. He, currently, had no idea what they were particularly talking about. Of course, he never had been the brightest bulb in the box. So, he settled for waiting until they figured it out.

"We should move cautiously. Treating our entry point as Point A, the central tower as Point B, and our destination as Point C, first we should move from our current Point A to Point B, then further to Point C. It shouldn't be hard to make it from Point B to Point C since we have a good idea of the direction." Sakura analyzed, making Naruto's head hurt.

Neji cracked his eyes open and tossed a glance toward the north. "But, it could also save us time to move directly from Point A to Point C," he added, "And we don't know for sure what could be waiting in either direction. From here, Point C should still be Northeast on a lesser angle so we still have a good idea on our destination."

Naruto's eyes then began to swirl, paying homage to his name. Sasuke lowered his head a bit, "I agree with Neji. It will save us time, and we can scout for any potential ambush with his Byakkugan to prevent being caught in booby traps. So, it would seem most beneficial for us to move directly to Point C -- we just need to be cautious about our movements in case of traps or enemies."

Naruto felt his brain going numb by this point. Sakura breathed a small sigh as Tenten scratched her cheek with her right index finger thoughtfully. "It should be roughly twelve kilometers from where we are -- it's only possible that it could save us time to move directly to Point C. Actually, it should take a similar amount of time, plus we'll be able to use Point B as a resting point." Tenten said. Sakura nodded once in agreement and Neji looked up.

"It seems we have a tie -- two of us think we should move from Point A to Point C, while the other two believe we should move from Point A to Point B to Point C. However," he then turned his ivory eyes to the fifth member of the team. Sasuke, Sakura, and Tenten all did the same.

Naruto sweatdropped as he tried to stop his brain from rattling. "What?"

"We need a tie-breaker, so which one?" Neji asked. Naruto laughed somewhat nervously; they were going to rely on him to decide? Really, they should have known better.

"Go on, baka, pick one!" Sakura exclaimed, her expression becoming a tad bit impatient.

"Oi, tonchiki, hurry up. We don't have all day." Sasuke spoke up with a light frown. Naruto grimaced and began to stroke his chin thoughtfully. This was bothersome, but it seemed he had to do it.

"Uh... I think we should take Sakura-chan's suggestion?" Naruto offered finally, causing Sasuke to slap his forehead and Neji to shake his head hopelessly. Naruto really didn't know anything about strategizing, but it wasn't important now... They had chosen to let him decide, after all. If something happened, then it was their fault... right?

"Fine, we'll first focus on moving to Point B," said the Uchiha. Neji turned in the appropriate direction to check it out with his Byakkugan. He had no complaints, he was just glad they managed to work it out.

"Finally," he mumbled first before shaping a few hand seals, "Byakkugan!" The others waited patiently as he looked ahead to scan the landscape for potential traps. Finally, he relaxed his eye ability and looked back at the others confidently.

"It would seem that there are no surprises for the first eight hundred meters," he informed, and after a few more words of preperation were exchanged between them, they headed off in the chosen direction...

Discarding the previous idea regarding who to put the blame on, they marched forward. If something were to happen now, they could just blame it on Naruto.

-----

It was surprisingly a quiet trip thus far, and nighttime was already drawing close signified by the darkening sky above. Sakura was beginning to wonder if Tsunade'd really had new traps set; honestly, it seemed a little too easy. It gave her somewhat of a foreboding feeling, and her teammates had been quick to notice it as well.

Nonetheless, they'd been moving at a pretty quick pace(though they'd still been travelling for hours); every eight hundred meters, they would stop and let Neji check out the surroundings with his Byakkugan. This had been going on for the first five kilometers, when Neji finally noticed something.

"Explosive tags -- on the fourth tree up to the right and the sixth tree up to the left." Neji pointed out, causing Tenten to sigh heavily. Sweat began to perspire on her forehead as the five carefully headed around this small obstacle. Cautiously, they stepped over the wires just above the ground to get past the first group of traps entirely.

"Not very well hidden." Sakura noted. Sasuke narrowed his eyes before casting a glance back at the passed field of traps, his mind slowly trying to get a bearing on their current position.

"Either they didn't have much confidence in our ability to detect traps, or--" he started, and Neji nodded once in agreement before casting a glance to either side just to be on the safe side.

"They're trying to throw us off," the Hyuuga finished for him, causing Sasuke to frown a bit in concentration. It was probably just part of the Godaime's plan; still, for some reason, he had a feeling that something else was going on.

"Tenten, to the right!" Neji called abruptly having just started to check the surroundings with his Byakkugan, causing Tenten to stop after already stepping forward. She quickly turned her head around to face him next, surprise evident in her expression. Her eyes quickly widened when she realized what she'd done...

The explosive tag on the tree began to burn up, soon after setting off a chain reaction as connected and previously unnoticed explosive tags began to burn on the successive trees. This caused the bun haired girl to bite down on the inside of her bottom lip as she threw her arms up defensively and jumped to the left to try and avoid it.

"Kuso," Neji cursed under his breath before jumping over to shield his female companion from the blast. Naruto just began looking around in confusion as Sasuke and Sakura distanced themselves from the tags also...

And then they went off. While most of them produced standard explosions, a couple seemed to be feints and sent out clouds of smoke instead. On top of that, when the earth under Sasuke began to break, he realized just what was going on -- as surprising a fact as it was.

"Doton?" he asked basically no one as he began to fall from the small cliff in the direction of who knew what could be lurking below. Noticing what was going on, Sakura quickly ran over and jumped off also, extending a hand to catch one of Sasuke's wrists. If all of them were to get seperated, it would probably lessen their chance of making it back in time. And that meant only one thing: they couldn't get seperated, they had to stick together.

However, it wasn't all too long before she realized the extent of what had happened, and she was certain the others probably already knew as well...

They had, indeed, been seperated.

-----

Tenten groaned as she somewhat uneasily rose into a sitting position, coughing slightly from the smoke. Neji moved his pearl colored eyes as he began to survey the surrounding area. They'd been distanced a bit from their previous position, and furthermore he couldn't see Sasuke, Sakura, or Naruto around anywhere.

"Dammit," he muttered, causing Tenten to lower her head slightly. She knew it was her fault; had she been paying attention, she would have waited for Neji to finish searching the area before moving...

"Gomen, Neji..." she appologized quietly; she had been careless, even though she had tried her best to be as cautious as possible. She had been the one to cause this, and now they were split up.

Neji breathed a low sigh in response, sorting out his thoughts calmly. "Everything's all right. I'll just check out the surrounding few meters with my Byakkugan to see if I can locate the others -- we may have to shift our location a little though."

Tenten smiled slightly as she waved her hand to fan some of the remaining smoke away from her face. "I hope everyone's all right..." she mumbled, before standing and raising her eyes to the gradually darkening sky...

-----

Sakura winced as she rolled onto her side, her eyes flinching but not opening just yet. Consciousness soon began to flood her mind however, and she very carefully cracked her eyes open. "What happened...?" she mumbled somewhat disorientedly, hearing the feint sound of shifting behind her.

Sasuke cradled his forehead in his palm before casting a glance back upwards from whence they had fallen. Sakura dazedly followed his gaze up to the cliff side, her eyes slowly shifting from the broken up earth to the clods of dirt around them. Upon abruptly feeling a panging in the side of her head, she cringed and raised her right hand to rub her temple soothingly.

"The last thing I remember is getting hit in the head with a rock -- Sasuke-kun, how far do you think we fell...?" she began to ask, as Sasuke pulled himself to a standing position. He dusted off his pants with his right hand as he looked up in the direction they'd fallen from.

"We could be a full kilometer away from the others..." he grumbled slightly, checking to make sure he hadn't lost his ningu pouch. This truly was a problem -- he couldn't believe he'd been so careless as to not realize it.

"Then we should..."

"Continue north and hope we find the central tower." Sasuke cut in, and Sakura nodded once in agreement. He was right, at the very least they knew what direction they had fallen from -- which meant that the deemed Point B should still be north from their current location. She nibbled lightly on her tongue as she seperated her thoughts.

This was nothing to get too anxious over; the team had been seperated, but they would more than likely meet back up on their way to the tower. At least, that's what she would be hoping for. With a little luck, the mission would be fine. They couldn't let this little detour stop them -- Sasuke's fate as a shinobi was depending on it!

"Sakura, let's go." Sasuke said finally, interrupting his pink haired companion's thoughts. Silently conceding, she started to get up only to find that her ankle was disagreeing with her. She wrenched sharply in reaction to the abrupt stinging feeling and sat right back down.

"Gomen nasai, Sasuke-kun. I should heal this first -- it's just a sprain." Sakura assured him before sighing somewhat shakily and holding her palm just above her injured ankle to heal it with her Shosen Jutsu.

Sasuke waited patiently until she was finished, before turning in the direction they would be leaving in. Sakura frowned slightly and stood, her eyes narrowing slightly in determination.

"We have to make it to the central tower -- we'll use it as a meeting point; the others have to be there when we make it!" she resolved more to herself than anyone. Sasuke noted this statement and looked off toward their destination.

This... is turning out to be a nuisance.

And with that, they were off as well. Something continued to bother Sasuke though -- he felt as though they were being watched now, and something about his instincts assured him that he was right.

They weren't alone.

-----

Raising up into a sitting position, Naruto scoffed back at what he would call the mine field from here on out. He then raised his head and quickly glanced from one side to the other. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead next as he bowed his head in defeat...

"I'm lost, dattebayo..."

---------- Tsudzuku: To Be Continued ----------

Preview: The team has been seperated! How will they succeed now that the deadline has gotten closer? Next Time: "Unexpected Surprises".

Nihongo Word Notes: Tonchiki; A male insult meaning numbskull, dimwit, idiot, etc.

Disclaimer & Copyright Information: I do not own Naruto (© Kishimoto Masashi); however, I am the author of this story. If you have comments or suggestions, leave a review or send me an e-mail. Doumo arigatou, for reading my writing!