The shinobi in the auditorium quieted down.
Tsunade had banged her hand against the podium, calling the meeting to order. Everyone was in a subdued mood, thanks to recent events.
Asuma had died, fighting against Hidan and Kakuzu. Subsequent attacks by Akatsuki had brought more death, but the organization had failed to retrieve the person they were after, and the Bijuu they needed for their plans for world domination.
"We haven't had time to meet like this in a while," the Hokage stated, looking out over the sea of faces. Ninjas of all ages were there, along with the current Academy level students. "It's never easy to mourn the loss of those we love and respect…." She looked out over the sea of heads, finding Shikamaru, Choji, and Ino. "But… the village remains… and we should take the time to meet those we know little about…."
Tsunade began looking for another particular face. There were a number of people who needed to be more familiar to the shinobi in the room. One in particular stood out in her mind, because he had taken a rather prominent place in Team Seven.
"Sai…." The Hokage found who she was looking for. As she expected, he was sitting next to Naruto and Sakura. It had been simple finding him. How many ninjas wore orange? How man girls had pink hair? She frowned. Kakashi was reading one of those damned books again. "Would you come up here… please…."
"If you wish," Sai said pleasantly, his face showing a trace amount of emotion. He had worked very hard to fit in with Naruto and the others, and had continued his trips to the library, in order to read up on human behavior. In addition, he had been covertly observing the people of Konoha, his fellow shinobi most of all. "I hope I haven't done anything wrong…."
"Not at all," Tsunade said, making a gesture with one hand. "By all accounts, you have been very pleasant to be around, and have managed to stay out of trouble despite the environment you find yourself in." She saw the way that Naruto scowled, hearing that. Sakura looked a bit perturbed, too. Good, the two of them were getting along much better. But, 'better' was a relative term.
"Thank you, Ma'am." Sai walked up a short flight of wooden steps, and then headed for the podium. "It is a good group to work with. I have learned a great deal. By watching others, I learn what things I should do…." He smiled that closed-eye smile of his. "And should not do…."
"I can image," the Hokage deadpanned. That had a number of ninjas smiling or whispering amongst themselves. "I would like you to start off by telling everyone here a little about yourself. No topics are off limits. I only ask you to show good judgment."
"I will do that, Ma'am." Sai nodded. He looked out over the assembled group. He wondered how many of those people might be friends to one another. More so, he contemplated the possibility of them becoming his friends. "Sai is not my real name. That was taken from me long ago." He didn't sound happy or sad about that fact. "Sai was merely a codename given to me by Danzo, when I was assigned to infiltrate Team Seven as a replacement of Sasuke Uchiha." He looked down at Naruto and Sakura. "Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned that name…." It was still a very sensitive subject, especially since the time was drawing near to the point where Orochimaru would need to make another body transfer.
"It's alright," Tsunade said. "Please continue." The ongoing nastiness with The Nine had made it difficult to spare people to send off after the missing ninja. In particular, it was a very bad time for Naruto to go anywhere far from the safety of the Village Hidden in the Leaves.
"As some of you may know, I have had trouble showing emotions." Sai had been making great strides in that direction, in his mind. It was hard. He would need years to understand things that most people took for granted. But, it was a worthy goal. "Before I was truly accepted into my team, I started off on the wrong foot. I attacked a number of shinobi physically. I challenged Uzumaki Naruto's manhood by asking if he even had a penis."
"Sai!" Naruto shook his fist at his teammate.
"You can leave out things like that," the Hokage said, a tic appearing at her forehead.
"I apologize," Sai said, without missing a beat. He wondered why a lot of people were snickering and making snide comments he couldn't hear. Was it because they did not value him? Was it because they thought little of Naruto? Or, was it because they truly liked his teammate, and were using this opportunity to express that fact? "I will refrain from noting that I compounded my error by calling Haruno Sakura ugly when we first met, and made a wrong-headed effort to disparage Uchiha Sasuke in their presence."
"Baka!" Now it was Sakura's turn to look irritated. The more time she spent with Sai, the more she found herself wondering if his clueless nature was merely an act. She sighed. Naruto was pretty clueless, too. But, while her hyperactive friend had grown up under difficult circumstances, he at least had a chance to express himself. Danzo had used special training to eliminate all emotions from Sai, much the way that Kirigakure had used their infamous graduation exercise. He had caused Sai to fight his 'brother' to the death, an act that her newest teammate had trouble facing to that day.
"Please, forgive me." Sai's facial expression did not change. At the Hokage's prompting, he began discussing some of the jutsus that he knew. "I make use of a scroll, brush and ink to draw animals that will leave the parchment and attack as I wish. Using the same method, I can create a large bird that I can fly on."
"I understand that you have been very busy lately," Tsunade said, after Sai had finished with his brief dissertation. "A number of people have brought that to my attention." By that, she meant the other members of Team Seven, and anyone else who had happened upon them while they were training. "Why don't you share with us the things that you have learned?" It would be a good way to draw out things about group dynamics, while making the boy seem like any other member of the original 'Rookie Nine.'
"Is that truly your command?" Sai cocked his head. He had interpreted the Hokage's request in an entirely different way. He was trying to be discrete and responsible. "Some things should probably be kept secret."
"Nonsense," Tsunade said with a shake of her head. "We are all part of one big team. That is they way that we have always done things, and I intend to continue doing things the same way until the day I step down." She didn't want any one team to keep its methods hidden, so as to show up any other group of ninjas. "There should not be any secrets amongst us."
"You might want to clarify…." Shizune tried to get the Hokage's attention, but failed. While she hadn't had much of a chance to get to know Sai, she had heard a great deal about him from Sakura. He was very prone to misinterpreting things.
"I have observed a great many things," Sai remarked, moving the microphone on the lectern to better suit his height. "Perhaps these things are well known to the rest of you." He looked down at the Copy Ninja, whom he had come to respect immensely. "Hatake Kakashi is very fond of the Icha Icha series of books. In his words, they help him 'get some'."
Kakashi's visible eye opened very wide. He obviously hadn't expected Sai to mention that.
"He explained to me that using such triumphs as a reference, the score in his contests with Maito Gai would be more on the order of fifty to nothing." Sai looked amiably over at the green-suited jounin, wondering why the shine on the man's teeth suddenly went flat.
"That… he… my rival…." Gai couldn't get the words out. Truth be known, despite his obvious magnificence, he never did have much luck with the ladies. It was a mystery too him.
"None of that was…." Tsunade couldn't get a word in edge-wise. Sai was on a roll now.
"Naruto informed me that his mentor, the Frog Hermit, was the one who wrote the books." Sai had asked if he could read one, to help him in his research. His sensei had refused the request. "He also told me that he himself had ghost-written a chapter in the latest volume when his former teacher was unavailable or out of sorts."
"What?" The Hokage clenched her fists. That was the first she had heard of any of that. When she caught Naruto's gaze, he tried to crouch down in his seat.
"Naruto?" Sakura did not look very pleased. She laced her fingers together and cracked her knuckles. Sai had soon learned that she was not willing to put up with the orange-clad boy's occasional perversions.
"What I fail to understand, however…." Sai scratched his head. "If Naruto is so wise when it comes to relationships, why does Sakura think he is so clueless?" He scanned the crowd, wondering if someone would provide him with an answer. "It may be because he does not give any sign that he knows how much she has started caring for him."
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto sat up straighter, looking over at Sakura. She looked like she had frozen in place. If he could have seen the 'Inner Sakura,' he would have known that her imaginary construct wasn't fairing any better.
"Or, it may be the fact that Naruto still does not realize that Hyuuga Hinata has a crush on him," Sai continued. "And has felt that way since the two were together at the Academy." He shrugged. "I doubt that is the case. Someone would have to be fairly stupid to miss the obvious…" He wondered why Inuzuka Kiba and Aburame Shino were fanning their teammate. It looked as if the white-eyed girl had passed out. Perhaps she had merely fallen asleep. His presentation was rather dry, after all.
"Sai… you shouldn't…." Again, the Hokage's words were lost in the resultant hubbub.
"Hinata?" Naruto looked over towards Team Eight. He jumped, catching the look on Sakura's face. "Sakura-chan?" Her eyes had been glowing red. Now, her cheeks were.
"There seems to be a great deal of energy spent on affairs of the heart," Sai observed. "I have not done any of the same, myself. I suppose that makes me sadly deficient." He blinked rapidly, and then looked over at Neji. "Perhaps not. I would not judge Hyuuga Neji to be an imbecile. In fact, many consider him to be a genius. And yet, he does not seem to realize that his teammate is in love with him."
"Lee?" Naruto smirked. He was just joking. That ought to have Lee standing up and making some kind of exclamation.
"Ahhh-hh-h…." Sure enough, Lee shot up like a rocket. "He means Ten Ten!" He put a hand over his mouth, looking stricken. Ten Ten had made him promise not to say anything. He sat back down, feeling a bit sheepish when he saw the way that a stunned Neji looked.
"That is correct," Sai confirmed. "Rock Lee's crush is on my teammate…." He had learned from experience. He would not leave things hanging again. "Haruno Sakura." He looked over at Lee. "He is very strong-willed. I admire that. Anyone else would probably give up, if the girl they liked referred to them as a Fuzzy-browed Freak."
"Lee… I…." Sakura looked like she wad been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She didn't not like the fact that Lee had a crush on her; but, she never wanted him to know any of the things that she called him whenever his unwanted actions left her upset.
"Perhaps she meant that as a term of endearment," Sai mused out loud. "After all, she grew very upset at me when I chose to use nicknames, even though Naruto informed me that pet names often help break the ice, and begin to foster a sense of trust amongst companions. No. I see that I may have overstepped my bounds. Likely, she should not say such things, just as I was told never to call Akimichi Choji 'fat'…." He looked mystified. "...Even though he is twice the size of anyone else."
"You shouldn't…." Shikamaru looked particularly bothered. He hated when people said that about his friend. Then again, as one of his dying suggestions, Asuma ha asked Choji to lose weight. Looking over at his rotund friend, he saw that the other boy had ripped the armrests off of his seat.
"That is another thing that confuses me," Sai admitted, ignoring the fact that the Hokage was waving her hands frantically. "Why would he wish to stay that large? He has a very big crush on Yamanaka Ino; but, she routinely berates him for his corpulence." He stroked his chin, deep in thought. "It's probably because he knows that the girl is interested in her other teammate, who treats her more as if she were a wart or a bad case of the runs."
"You…." Ino had thought Sai very cute, back when he nicknamed her 'Ms. Beautiful.' Her opinion of him had changed rather drastically.
"Hmmm-mm-mpf…." Sakura managed a quick grin. At least she wasn't the only one who felt as if she were hung out naked on a clothesline.
"Perhaps that is why, when I have happened upon her in the past, unseen…." Sai said. "When she was practicing kisses on her hand, she kept saying things like 'O… Shikamaru… you hunk, you….""
"Him…." Kiba looked like he was going to bust a gut. "A hunk…." He began laughing. That obviously didn't sit well with either Ino or Shikamaru.
"Priceless," Shino said, his single word speaking volumes.
"I do not see why you would make fun of your friend that way," Sai said down to Kiba. "Especially since you were turned down by the last three girls you approached." He had followed Kiba one day, as he had walked into town and caught sight of a group of civilian girls out for a stroll during lunch break. "And… afterwards… when you saw Akamaru licking his privates… you said that you wished you could do that for yourself…."
"Hah!" Naruto stood up and pointed at Kiba. "And everyone thinks that I'm a perv!"
Kiba began growling. He didn't know who he wanted to strangle first, Sai or Naruto. No. The choice was simple. Sai.
"SAI!" Finally, Tsunade decided to shout, whether or not such an act might seem dignified. "ENOUGH!"
"Ma'am?" Sai looked perplexed. He had simply done what he was instructed to do, mentioning all of the things that he had observed and spent time pondering.
"I… meant…." The Hokage's vein at the temple area was pulsing wildly. "You… should… tell… us… about…the… things… you… learned… with… your… team…." It was hard speaking like that, between clenched teeth. "In regards to practice."
"Ahhh." Sai nodded his head. That certainly made more sense. "It was an honest mistake." He turned to face the audience again. "Please forget those things that I said."
"Dead man walking," Ino whispered.