Author's note: Sorry again about the long break between updates. My dad passed away on Halloween which both killed my desire to write and gave me writer's block. I have also got some time off of work so I was finally able to write once I broke past my block. What can I say, Sai is hard to write! He maybe one of my favorite characters, but it is so hard to get into his head. If I've gotten him out of character, I apologize. Please, read, enjoy, and review, just don't flame me!
Disclaimer: I own nothing to do with Naruto!
Sai woke early the next morning, leaving Naruto who was still asleep. He grabbed his pack and went outside. Once he was comfortably situated, he pulled a sketchpad and colored pencils out of his backpack and got to work. As he worked on a piece of abstract art, his mind turned to his new teammates. Sakura seemed less competent than the other kunoichi he had worked with in ROOT, and seemed to get mad at him every time he made an observation, which was also something they didn't do. However, since she was apprenticed to the Godaime Hokage, she must have some redeeming qualities. Hinata was an enigma, from the little he had heard about her. Heiress of the powerful Hyuuga clan, but apprenticed to the Toad Sannin. She spent almost three years away from the village, and since her return, now lived away from the clan with her fiance, Naruto. Naruto was a little confusing. He was open and kind to Yamato and Sai. He was also apprenticed to Jiraiya-sama, and the Jinchuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.
Sai shook his head in confusion. He had never spent time around people like these and it was throwing him out of sorts. Even though he had no emotion, he could still get confused. Naruto's offer to learn tanto from him had caught him off guard. Something about him reminded Sai of his older brother, though he didn't know why. He focused on his drawing, letting the familiar motions help work through his confusion.
Naruto turned on his futon, lost in a dream. He was standing in the Hokage's office with Hinata, who was holding a small bundle of blankets in her arms. Tsunade was speaking, "Naruto, I am retiring as Hokage, and I have decided to announce..."
"Naruto!" Yamato's voice broke into his dream, waking him up.
"What did I do?" Naruto replied sitting up straight.
"We need to get going," Yamato-taicho said, "Get ready to go and find Sakura and Sai. I want to leave within an hour."
"Understood," Naruto replied and then flopped down onto the futon, remembering his dream. Was Tsunade-baachan going to name me Hokage? And Hina-hime was holding a baby! Was it a boy or a girl? Ahhh, I can't remember. It was a great dream. Well, better get going. He quickly dressed, ate breakfast and went to find his two teammates.
Sakura had found Sai hard at work on his drawing. "Oh, is that an abstract? It looks amazing. What are you going to call it?"
"I never give my drawings titles. It seems pointless. My landscapes, anyone can see what they are supposed to be. Same with everything else I draw."
"But you give them a name to show what they mean to you."
"They don't mean anything to me. I don't have emotions, so they don't have an emotional connection to me. Without that, why should I bother naming them?"
"But what if someone doesn't know what it is you have drawn? A title will help them understand. Titles aren't just for the artist, they are also for the people who see them."
"I never thought of it that way before. A title helping others understand my drawings. I will think about it."
"Oi, Sai, Sakura," Naruto called out, "It is time to go!"
"Already?" Sakura asked, then checked her watch. "Wow, Naruto, you're awake without anyone having to wake you up. I'm impressed. Apparently going with Jiraiya-sama did you a world of good."
"Yamato-taicho woke me up," Naruto replied. He then peeked over Sai's shoulder. "Nice, but I don't get abstracts. They just look like someone put color where ever they wanted to me."
"You are not a big fan of art?" Sai asked.
"Not abstracts. I like stuff you can understand without having to puzzle it out," Naruto replied. "Yamato-taicho sent me to get you two. He wants to head out."
"Oh, okay," Sai said, and began to pack everything back up.
As they got underway, all of them stayed silent, without any of the bickering or tension of the day before. Yamato was glad to see them getting along. He knew the mission was important, and it was just as important to the mission's success that the team get along. He was also wondering about Naruto's comment about Crow and Eagle. Who could they be? What kind of mission could they be on which would require them to be gone from the village for such a long time, but still be able to train two Genin? I need to ask the Hokage about this.
Naruto was wary as they made their way. I wonder who Sasori's spy is? This mission could turn out bad in so many ways. What's Hinata up to? Naruto, keep you mind on the mission. This involves Orochimaru. I can't afford to be distracted. I wonder how Sasuke has changed, and if he really has gone bad, how can I tell Itachi? He is very disappointed that Sasuke has betrayed the village, but he still has hope for him. What if Sasuke can't be redeemed? What will I do then? I mean what I told Sai. I won't abandon him to Orochimaru, I will rescue him. But what if he doesn't want to be rescued? What will I do then? How can I help him then? I can't tell him the truth about Itachi. Number one, he won't believe me, and number two, I can't explain how I got the knowledge. Ahhh, this sucks! Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. I haven't felt this helpless since I woke up in the hospital after my fight in the Valley of the End.
Sakura's mind was also on the mission. What if this is a wild goose chase? Will this work? Will we get information about Sasuke? How has he changed? I wasn't able to stop him from leaving before, but I will be able to bring him back. I am much stronger now. I will do everything possible to make this mission succeed. We will save you, Sasuke, I promise you.
Sai's thoughts were in a different direction. I know what Danzo-sama wants me to do, but I have been ordered by Hokage-sama to no longer follow his orders. Who should I be more loyal to? Danzo-sama, or the Hokage who outranks him? Danzo-sama claims that we, ROOT, are the true strength of Konoha, but I was defeated by those four so easily. They have said that they will never abandon a comrade, and this mission proves it. Even thought the Uchiha abandoned the village, they are still willing to risk everything to save his life. My comrades in ROOT wouldn't do that. Is that what makes them so strong? Is that the 'will of fire' I have heard other shinobi talking about before? What makes these people so different?
As the sun set, Yamato stopped the team. "We will camp here tonight. The bridge isn't far from here, so we will reach it tomorrow and prepare." He began forming hand signs. "Mokuton: Four Pillars House Jutsu!" Wood began sprouting from the ground and quickly grew into a huge house.
Naruto gave a low whistle. "I like camping with you, Yamato-taicho. This is much better than being stuck in a leaky tent with Ero-Sennin's snoring. You don't snore, do you?"
"Not that I know of," Yamato replied.
"I don't," Sai added.
"Naruto! Why would you ask something like that?" Sakura groaned.
"If you've ever been around Ero-Sennin when he snored, you'd be asking the same thing," Naruto shot back. "After almost three years of putting up with it, I would like to take a break from it."
"Like you are one to talk. You snore as well!"
"Not as loudly as Ero-Sennin, according to Hinata-hime," Naruto replied.
"Are you sure she just wasn't being nice?" Sakura asked skeptically.
"Yes, Hinata is terrible at lying."
"Will you two knock it off?" Yamato grumbled. "We are all tired and hungry, and the last thing I want to know is who snores louder."
"Sorry, Yamato-taicho," Naruto and Sakura contritely replied as one.
After they had all eaten, Yamato brought them all together. "Naruto, you are the only person here who has faced Sasori. What can you tell us about him?"
"He is a perfectionist, hates being late and taking a long time to do things. Since he was a Suna puppet master, he was most likely extremely detail oriented," Naruto said, remembering his brief encounter with the puppet master, and Itachi's information about him. "He had turned himself into a puppet, and was the one responsible for the Sandaime Kazekage's death."
"Really?" Sai asked.
"He turned him into a human puppet, according to Hinata-hime and Chiyo-baasama," Naruto explained. "Hinata would be able to tell you more, since she fought him, while I faced Deidara."
"We just need to fool the spy long enough to capture him. Suna provided us with a picture of the Hiruko puppet he traveled in, so I can disguise myself like it. Do you remember what he sounded like?"
"Yes, I do remember that. He didn't sound human at all. It gave me the creeps to be honest."
"Thank you, Naruto, and thank you for being honest," Yamato said. "Let's get some rest. I want to have a team work exercise tomorrow morning, so be prepared."
"It's not another bell test is it?" Naruto groaned, "I've had enough of those to last a lifetime."
"No, it isn't."
"Good, 'cause I don't know your weaknesses like I do Kakashi-sensei's."
"Yeah, those perverted books of his," Sakura muttered.
"Hinata destroyed them," Naruto told her, grinning like a fox.
"Good for her!" Sakura cheered. "I can't believe the spineless princess would have the guts to do that!"
Naruto abruptly glared at her, "What did you just call Hinata?"
Sakura suddenly looked ashamed of herself. "The spineless princess. It's what almost everyone at the Academy called her. She is the heiress of the Hyuuga clan, but never acted the part, being so shy and never standing up for herself."
"Who came up with that nickname?" Naruto demanded.
"I don't remember," Sakura admitted.
"Did it ever occur to you that all she needed was some friends? She was picked on by older kids who didn't like her because she was related to Neji, and made fun of by the kids in our class. I feel bad because I didn't notice her or try to be friends with her back then, but at least I didn't make fun of her or call her names behind her back!"
"She was picked on?"
"I know that because I stopped it once," Naruto shot back. "I provoked those bullies into going after me instead."
Sakura was stunned by Naruto's vehemence, and felt ashamed of her actions when she was younger. Why didn't I try to be nicer to Hinata back then? Was it so I could stay with the 'cool' crowd? She couldn't say anything to defend herself, so she stayed quiet. Naruto didn't say anything else, while Sai was smart enough to keep his mouth shut.
Yamato watched the interchange with a blank face. This is an interesting thing to happen. I hope it doesn't interfere with their ability to work together.
Back in Konoha, Hinata heaved a deep breath as she finished with the assignments Tsunade had given her to test her medic skills. The assignments had included healing cuts and broken bones, analyzing poisons, creating antidotes, various diagnoses, and reviews of human anatomy, physiology, and pathology. It had been a very demanding and thorough examination, and Hinata was exhausted. Some things she had excelled in, others she had barely passed. Like her teacher, Hinata had focused on treating injuries as quickly and as efficiently as possible, which included taking some shortcuts that most medics working in a clinical setting wouldn't need to.
Tsunade mentally reviewed Hinata's abilities. The girl was a very competent medic, but needed some more training in certain areas. I heard Rin was a good medic, and I am very pleased with how well she taught Hinata. Rin is also one of the few medics alive to claim to have done something I haven't. Tsunade mentally smiled at that. It was true. Rin had performed a successful battlefield eye transplant, which was made even more difficult with the fact that said eye possessed a doujustu. It had astounded people then, and still impressed people today that the transplanted eye was doing so well.
"You did well, Hinata," Tsunade said, giving the girl a smile. "Rin taught you very well."
"She is an excellent teacher," Hinata replied, wiping sweat off of her forehead. "She is also a great friend. I can't wait for her to return to Konoha."
"I may call her back soon. I'm going to need every experienced Jonin we have now that the Akatsuki are starting to move."
"Her skills were a little rusty, but Jiraiya and Crow helped her get back up to speed," Hinata informed her.
"Even better. She was considered to be one of the best assassins the ANBU had ever seen, thanks to her medic training," Tsunade told her.
"She never mentioned that."
"It is in her file," Tsunade shrugged. "Most civilians wouldn't expect a pretty woman to be a great assassin, so they let their guard down. I mainly knew her by reputation, because Kushina, Hitomi, and Shizune knew her well. I can't wait to get to know her."
"She's like the older sister I never had, and reminds me a bit of my mother," Hinata said. "Temari is also like an older sister."
"Gaara informed me about the unofficial adoption," Tsunade informed her. "I'm glad that Naruto does have a family now, even if it is a bit unconventional."
"Well, he has a grandma in you; an uncle/father figure in Jiraiya; Rin is his older sister/mother; Itachi, Kankuro, and Gaara are his older brothers; Obito is his younger brother; and you know what I am," Hinata laughed.
Tsunade grinned, "Yes, I do know. I am the one who married you two after all."
"Tsunade-sama, what will happen if I don't get pregnant in time? Could my clan elders annul my marriage and make me marry Yamada Tarou?" Hinata whispered, giving voice to the fears that had been lurking in the back of her mind for a while.
"If they even try, they will not only have to get through Naruto, but also myself, Jiraiya, Neji, your father, Haruka, Rin, Itachi, and most importantly, you. You have become an amazing kunoichi, Hinata. The fact that you took down Sasori of the Red Sand without a scratch proves it."
"I couldn't have done it without help from Chiyo-sama," Hinata blushed at the praise.
"You are also humble, which is a good thing. However, you faced down an S-rank missing nin and lived to tell the tale. How many fifteen-year-old ninja can claim that?"
"You're right about that," Tsunade gave her another smile. "Besides, I wouldn't worry about your clan elders. Naruto never backs down from a challenge, and I doubt he will let this one get past him."
"Tsunade-sama!" Hinata squeaked out, going tomato red.
The Hokage had a good laugh at Hinata's expense, and then said, "I have a surprise for both you and Naruto once he comes back."
"What? What is it?"
"Let's just say that the two of you will not have to worry about the Chunin Exams again."
Hinata stared at her in shock, realizing what that meant. "It's a secret, so you can't say anything until it's official. Congratulations."
A/N, take two: He he he! I love doing this. See ya all next time!