Chapter 17
(Follows chapter 34, 35 of the manga)

It had been some time since the land of waves mission, and the village was peaceful and quiet. It was a sunny morning, and Naruko slowly awoke from her deep sleep, stretching out over her bed in her over-sized t-shirt that she slept in.
She got up and out of bed, as she yawned, her long yellow hair reaching down her back to her butt, strands sticking out and sticking up as it was as much of a mess than her bed was. She had obviously had a restless night again.
Ever since the Zabuza and Haku incident, she had felt something was wrong in her mind, still in disbelief at seeing their bodies, and burying them.
She first went to the bathroom, and refreshed herself, tying her hair in to her familiar pigtails, before stepping out and getting her usual breakfast of milk, and an instant-ramen, before she finally got dressed in her familiar black training shorts, short orange skirt, training top and orange jacket.
And once her hitai-ite was in place, she slapped her cheeks for a final wake up, and put on her usual smile as she reminded herself... a new mission awaited her.

She ran out of her small apartment, excited, shouting "NO MATTER THE MISSION TODAY... I DEFINATELY HAVE THE ENERGY FOR IT." And ran at her best speed away to the teams meeting place; and it wasn't long before she had arrived there, Sakura and Sasuke already waiting.

"Hey Sakura." She smiled as she ran up. Though as she saw Sasuke, and Sasuke saw her, they looked away from each other.
Sakura blinked, they had been funny with each other for a while, ever since they returned. Sasuke she could understand, he didn't like getting one-upped by Naruko... who would, she wasn't the best ninja, yet did more than either she or Sasuke, but she couldn't understand why Naruko was avoiding Sasuke in this way.
Sakura sighed, all she could do was hope Kakashi would turn up soon, so the awkwardness would evaporate and they could focus on a mission at least.

Three hours later... Kakashi showed up...

"Sorry... I got lost on the way here..." he said, smiling under his mask as he waved to them.

"STOP LYING SENSEI!" All of the genin shouted, in anger at having had to wait for so long.
Kakashi just chuckled, and rubbed the back of his head, before Naruko ran up to him.

"Sensei... all of our missions have been way too easy lately." She began. "When do we get a better one? One where I can use all my skills."

"OH?" Kakashi blinked.
Naruko nodded with a big smile.

She glanced over to Sakura and Sasuke, 'I really want to show them I can do good again. I've been messing up on my recent missions... and that... that... Sasuke has saved me... like some poor damsel... but I'll show him.' She thought to herself.

"Ok then Naruko... we actually have our mission. So lets go." Kakashi smiled.
Naruko was all excited and jumping for joy as they headed off... but by the time it was over, Naruko was limping through the village, being helped back by Sakura, all bruised and battered, unlike the others who barely had scratches on them.

"You idiot... It's because you push yourself you're in this mess." Sakura sighed.

"Pft... can't you even take care of herself?" Sasuke commented.

Naruko flinched and turned, she had had enough of him. "That's it Sasuke... Let's do this right now... you and me... I'll beat the crap out of you, jerk!" she cried out.

"Naruko! Don't you even try to harm Sasuke!" Sakura said, holding the blonde back.
Sasuke didn't even care, paying her no attention.

Kakashi though, sighed. "Your teamwork has been suffering lately." He commented.

"BLAME JERK-SUKE" Naruko shouted. "He gets in my way... always trying to hog the spotlight!"

"Thats you, moron." Sasuke said. "If you want me to stop making you look so bad, then get stronger than me."
Naruko frowned as she stared at Sasuke. Sakura looked nervous, as the Uchiha stared the blonde down, and Kakashi... sighed.

"Ok... I have to put this mission report in... I guess you're all dismissed." He said.

"Then I'm going home." Sasuke said, turning and walking away.

"W-wait!" Sakura said, making Sasuke stop and turn to her. "Umm... H-How about we do some t-training together? Working on our teamwork together, just the two of us? Like... like before." she cutely smiled, reminding him of how he had asked for advice on his tree-climbing and chakra control.

He looked to her. "You're just as bad as Naruko." He said, making Sakura's heart break a little as she was compared to the blonde. "You should be training not flirting, Even Naruko is more skillfull." Sakura she looked down sadly, she knew it was true, that she was the weakest member.
Naruko didn't like hearing that, not because of the obvious insult, but that Sakura liked him, and he was so cold to her.

"HEY YOU JERK!" she cried out, "Sakura is a great Genin... she's way smarter than us two put together. SO what if she's not as good a fighter..."
Sakura inwardly sweat-dropped at Naruko's attempt to help her, while it was nice, the compliment sounded more like an insult.

"...You complain about me not being useful, then if you want to improve, and improve our team, you could at least listen to her and help her." Naruko added.

Sasuke frowned, "Flirting with me doesn't..."

"SHUT UP!" Naruko shouted, making the Uchiha and Sakura take pause. "HOW she gets you to train with her doesn't matter, Sakura is wanting to train with you, do you think upsetting her will give her any enthusiasm if she thinks you hate her."

"I... I never said I..." Sasuke said, it seemed to stab at him a little that Naruko actually had a point, Sakura did tend to mope around rather than train when he turned her down.
Sakura looked to Naruko, with a small smile, appreciative for the help, she couldn't believe this girl, whom she had abandoned a friendship with so long ago, was still trying to be there for her, and helping her out with the one she crushed on.

"...fine." suddenly came the Uchiha's voice, making the entire team blink in surprise, although not surprised to see annoyance in his expression. "Sakura, let's go train." He said, turning again and walking off.
Sakura blushed, her mouth open from shock, and smiled happily as she skipped off after him, glancing over her shoulder to Naruko with a happy smile, to say thankyou for her words.
Naruko saw the glance and smiled, happy for her friend.

"That was... different." Kakashi said, looking down to Naruko, though he noticed a slight sadness in her smile. "Are you ok?"

"Hmm?" Naruko blinked looking up to her sensei. "Oh yeah, I'm great Sensei." She exclaimed with her familiar grin.
Kakashi blinked, unsure of his student, but smiled back anyway, and was soon gone, leaving the blonde alone; though not for long.

As Naruko began to walk down the empty street, she noticed something, a box, painted to look like a rock... wait! A square rock? And it was following her.
She quickly turned and pointed "IDIOT! Rocks aren't square... and the eyeholes were a HUGE give-away!"
A moment later the box was flung into the air discarded by three young kids, one being her young friend, and apparent rival, Konohamaru.

"Leave it to the Kunoichi I have come to respect as an almost equal to my own skills to see though our disguise.

"Oh!" Naruko blinked. "It's you guys." She then noticed that all three of them were wearing goggles, just like she used to wear. "Huh? What's up with the goggles?"
Konohamaru blushed a little, "well... We... we're copying the style of our idol, and the style you used to wear." He smiled, all three looking proud at this fact.
Naruko looked unimpressed. "Oooo-kaaay." Was all she said.
This made Konohamaru mad, "OH WHAT? TOO COOL FOR US NOW?" he shouted.

"What do you want from me?" Naruko asked changing the subject.

Moegi, the only female in their trio, moved up, as Konohamaru pouted. Moegi had become a fan of Naruko's, and looked to her, as the rest of the team did, as a hero and someone to look up to. "We'll show you boss, could you come with us?"

"Sorry guys... I have to train." Naruko said, smiling.

"BUT YOU PROMISED TO PLAY NINJA WITH US!" Konohamaru shouted.

"Oh! I did?" Naruko blinked. "Wait! That was today?"
They nodded to her.
Naruko smiled, and chuckled a little. "Ok... since I did promise." She said.

-

At the main ninja building, Kakashi had just handed in his mission report to iruka, who was working there at the time.

"So... hows our little hellion?" Iruka asked, smiling as he wondered about Naruko. "Is she getting along with the other two?"

"She's... improving." Kakashi said, not sure what to say about them.

"You guys have had plenty of missions lately, Naruko hasn't come to see me for lunch in a while, I can't help but worry about her." Iruka said, sounding worried.

"Well, you know how it is." Kakashi said, "With Sasuke on the team too, she's been pushing herself hard, and half the time they're like a couple of dogs, circling each other, snarling and barking between each other, and the other half..."

Iruka blinked at Kakashi's pause. "What?"

"I dunno. She seems... sad sometimes." Kakashi said. "But I'm probably seeing things."

Iruka blinked. "Oh? Want me to talk with her?"

"No, I'm sure it's nothing. Either way, their rivalry seems to be keeping Naruko on her toes; she's developing at a rapid rate." Kakashi continued, "I think she mostly wants to impress you... her hero."

"M-me?" he blinked, though this made him happy. "Really?"

"Yeah. Though, I need to ask you..." Kakashi said.

"What?" Iruka blinked.

"That... Jutsu of hers..." Kakashi said.

"I know..." he sighed. "Just remember... it's a jutsu..."

"It's just... so inappropriate... to see her like that!"

The two men sighed, and left it at that.

-

Back in the village, Naruko and the three young students were playing, Naruko, was chasing them as they dodged around, not to the skill of a ninja, but at least enough.
Even thought they said it was playing ninja, it was more like a game of hide and seek, with tag mixed in.
Konohamaru was laughing, as he ran off, only to suddenly be stopped as he ran in to something.
When he looked up he saw two new figures he had never seen before ominously looking down at him, and their symbols... were not Leaf.
One was a blond girl with four spiky pigtails, dressed in a short pink dress with a large fan across her back, the other, was dress all in black with markings across his face, and a large wrapped object on his back, with what looked like a tuft of hair poking out the top.
The guy in black, known to his allies and enemies, was Kankuro of the hidden village Suna, the sand village.

He picked Konohamaru up by his collar. "That hurt snot-face." He said.

"HEY! LET HIM GO YOU BIG APE!" Naruko cried out.

"Knock it off." Said the girl, known as Temari.

"I just wanna play a little while we wait." Kankuro sniggered.
Konohamaru cried out, as Naruko, had had enough of this foreigner and charged at him, though, a few flicks of his hand, and Naruko was down, before she'd even gotten to him.
She was surprised, she couldn't understand what had just happened.
But she didn't stop to think, all she saw was Konohamaru in trouble, and headed at him again.

Kankuro frowned. "You're annoying." He said. "First I'll get rid of this shrimp here, then deal with you."
Kankuro then moved his fist heading straight for Konohamaru's head, before suddenly, a stone came out of nowhere hitting his hand, and making him drop the young boy.
Everyone looked over, and in a tree nearby sat Sasuke, Sakura, sat on another branch near him.

"So... who are you, and what are you doing in our village?" he smirked, he could sense a challenge in them.
Sakura smiled; it must have looked so cool in how Sasuke had saved the day like that.
Even Temari smirked, agreeing that it was a cool entrance.

"Another brat huh?" Kankuro frowned, "Well come on down smart ass." He added, as he took off the item on his back.

"Kankuro! You're not planning to use the 'crow'!" Temari said, looking worried.

"Kankuro... stop!" came another voice, this time from behind Sasuke.
Sasuke turned, whoever this was had snuck up on him without him even realising, he was even stood upside down to a branch.
His arms were folded, his short red hair wafting in the light breeze, and a gourd, almost as big as he was, was on his back.

"G-G-Gaara!" Kankura nervously smiled.

"You're a disgrace to our village." Gaara continued. "You can't control yourself against a bunch of kids . Have you forgotten why we're here?"

"But they started it." Kankuro pouted.

"Shut up." Gaara frowned. "Or I'll kill you."
His stare seemed to make everyone shiver, more so the two sand ninja, who knew him. There was something more to him, Naruko knew it; he was definitely the one in charge.
The next moment, Gaara appeared on the ground. He glanced to Sasuke, he saw in him something to worry about.

"Let's go." He commanded as he walked off, the other two sand nin following him, obediently.

Sakura jumped down. "Hey... wait!" she said, making them stop and turn. "You're headbands... you're from Suna... right? Our villages are allies, but you're not permittes to pass our border without permission; So state your business, we can't just let you go otherwise."

Temari smirked. "Weren't you informed?" she said, "We're here for the chuunin selection exams."

"Chu-Chunin selection exams?" Naruko blinked.

"Yes." Temari grinned.

"Hey... maybe I should enter these exams. Chuunins higher than Genin right?" Naruko asked Knohamaru, who nodded.

"HEY! Don't ignore me!" Temari barked.
Though a moment later Sasuke appeared next to Sakura.

"Hey... you, tell me your name." He said, with a stern look.

"Wh-who... me?" Temari blinked, blushing as the cute boy asked her.

"No... the spook beside you." He said, making Temari's head drop.

"Gaara of the desert." He said, looking at Sasuke with a frown of his own. "And you are?"

"Heh! Uchiha Sasuke." He grinned.

"HEY! Wanna know my name?" Naruko grinned.

"No..." was all Gaara said as he turned and left, making Naruko feel incredibly small.

Sasuke watched as they disappeared in to the distance; he knew this was going to be interesting.

Nearby, three other ninja watched on, hidden partially in shadow, but there symbol, a music note, the symbol of the hidden sound village, visible enough; Though they had been more interested in Gaara and Sasuke than the rest.

To be continued...