Chapter 12

"YOU'RE LATE!"

The angry shrill echoed loudly spreading through the skies using the winds to carry the sound, as the tree shook violently due to the pure strength that had been in the yell. Of course, this was not an uncommon event whenever Team Seven met up with their instructor; Hatake Kakashi, whom was sitting upon the branch passively flipping through his orange covered book not fazed by the accusation. Every morning he would be late and Sakura would make it known by yelling, while Sasuke and Naruto simply stood around watching the scene play out. Evidently, the two had learned earlier on not to say anything in hopes of not drawing attention to themselves while Sakura was in one of her moods, she could be quite scary depending on which mood she was in.

"Maa, maa. I had to stop to help an old lady across the street and then help save her cat from a teacher before running into some trash," Kakashi informed her in a positively cheerful tone, his eyes doing the strange 'u' thing as he smiled behind his mask, closing his book and dropped down to the ground. "It took quite awhile to save that cat, I don't think it like me very much."

"It's probably because covered in the fur of your dog summons," Naruto nodded sagely folding his arms against his chest.

Sakura whirled at him glaring angrily. "Don't encouraging him Naruto – and besides he used that excuse last week!" Once again she turned towards their instructor glaring at him irritably as Kakashi continued to smile at her giving a small wave.

Naruto frowned. "He probably has a good reason for being late, Sakura." He tried to placate the pink-haired girl calmly holding up his in a defensive manner ignoring the surprised look he had received in return.

"Oh?" Sakura looked rather doubtful and delicately raising an eyebrow.

"It's...just a guess, you know?" The blonde waved his hand trying to get his point across at the same time not giving away anything. "Kakashi-sensei's a Jounin so he probably has a lot of stuff that he needs to get done before meeting with us? We're supposed to be Shinobi," He pointed out further. "So it's our job to figure out what that is. Right, sensei?"

Kakashi appeared winded by the response, but had quickly masked it wearing an thumbs up. "That's exactly right Naruto!"

"Then," Sakura's brows knitted together uncertain glancing back and forth between the two. "What were you doing, sensei?"

The jounin tilting his head at the question as the smile remained walking over towards where she was standing and patted her head. "It's how Naruto said, Sakura. That's up to you to figure out," As he brushed past her easily, sharply turning to face the three and clapped his hands together. "Alright Team Seven it's time for today's exercises and then on with today's mission. Naruto, you will be working on your chakra control while Sasuke and I will be sparing."

"What about Sakura?" Naruto interjected instantly.

Kakashi blinked. "Hm?"

"I'm doing chakra control and you're sparing with Sasuke, so what's Sakura supposed to be doing? She can't just sit around and do nothing," The blonde was forced to clarify frowning at how dismissive the man was towards their final team mate and former crush. Ever since being and returning from England he had become much more aware of things, his teammates in particular and how much his training had improved after his being under his father during the short amount of time. Though Naruto knew he had to hold back during training spars in order not to arouse suspicion, fearing that if anyone had noticed they'd end up asking questions that he didn't really want to answer.

"The dobe has a point, I don't want to be dragged down." Sasuke finally spoke up throwing a sneer towards his and Sakura's direction, eyeing them condescendingly. "Make herself useful or something."

Sakura managed to keep herself from flinching, her smile was strained forcing it upon herself. "I'm not useless Sasuke-kun-"

"Prove it."The Uchiha rebuked flatly strutting towards the center, half turned his head and shot his arms up in an offensive fashion. "Fight me. Prove to us that having your actually useful for once. Or should I remind you of how useless you were back in Wave?"

That had been a low blow. None of them had been experienced even to have handled that fight properly, they had won purely by luck and as much as Naruto hated to admit, using the Kyuubi's Chakra. The fact that Sasuke had the sheer gull to bring up that mission was not cool. Even Sakura had looked upset. Despite that Wave had gotten a happy ending and they managed to complete their mission without any of them dying, it was still a sore spot for them all.

"S-Sasuke-kun..." Sakura's tone was soft barely above a whisper staring with worry in her green eyes. Not a moment after she swallowed loudly, stepping towards the opposite side sliding into an academy stance. "Give me your best shot Sasuke-kun!"

The cold smirk that formed on the raven-haired boy's face could give anyone the chills as he lunged forward throwing his fist first, it collided straight into Sakura's stomach picking her up from the ground nearly flinging her straight into the air until Sasuke raised his leg up and slammed down forcing her straight to the ground. The spar had been over been it could even begin. Neither Kakashi or Naruto move watching with mixed expressions waiting for something, anything to happen as the girl remained on the ground not moving. Several moments passed quickly with no response only for the Uchiha's eyes to linger on her before turning away with a sharp sneer no bothering to check.

"Useless."

That word snapped Naruto back into reality rushing towards Sakura, gently picking her up from the ground. "S-Sakura," He called worriedly trying not to shake her body upon doing so. "C-C'mon speak to me Sakura-chan! Don't just res-...S...Sakura?"

Tears streamed down the girl's face, the long bangs covered her eyes. A sad, painful smile appeared on her smile chocking out a laugh. "I-I'm...really am useless aren't it?" Tilting her head to reveal the glimmering green eyes filled with water. "Naruto?"

There was nothing that Naruto could say as he pulled the girl into a tight, shaking hug merely holding her as silence reigned over them. Kakashi had left with Sasuke not much later after the fight had been finished, leaving the two Genin sitting on the ground together as he tried to conceal his own tears. His chest started to become very damp hearing the muffled sobs coming from Sakura. This was really the only thing that he could do for her at the moment. Just like that her reality had been shattered by one sparring match. He didn't know for sure if that was the case, however, a strange feeling inside of him said that her allusions of Sasuke were history.

Whether that was a good or bad thing, Naruto had no answer.

(1)

The Sandaime eyed the file that was laying on his desk critically before folding it shut. Removing himself from his chair wandering over towards the window staring outside at the city, everything looked so beautiful from the view at which he was standing at. The Shodaime had made certain that the office for the Hokage was located in a place that would allow each Kage to gaze over the beloved town. From time to time Hiruzen would gaze from the window watching civilian and Shinobi alike among the streets, the peopled that he held dear and fought to protect and would continue to do so until his dying day.

However, that may not be in the case anymore. At least as a Hokage.

The newest report that he had received from his son, Sarutobi Asuma and field leader Umino Iruka detailed the events that had transpired up to this current point in time. At first he had been rather skeptical of what the report had to offer, with the exception of the steady progress of the three genins, and presumed that it was a mere misunderstanding after being away from home for so long that their minds began to play tricks upon them. But, upon seeing the seal that had been placed within in the report all of his disbelief had been thrown out of the window. The chakra that was emitting from the seal could not be faked by any means and while it seemed rather impossible he remember that his Shinobi were dealing with magic, anything was possible when it was involved.

Unfortunately he had been forced to take precautions and destroy the information in order to prevent the information from ending up in the wrong hands. More notably Danzou and his teammates Utatane and Homura; the two shared the fascist ideology that Danzo firmly believed in throwing support into his Ne program back in the day before he had put a stop to it. Or at least he had though, by no means was Hiruzen a fool, and was well aware that the three continued with Ne behind his back in hopes of strengthening their forces and eventually overruling him as the Hokage. By being on the Council allowed them a certain amount of power that he could never have, constantly throwing it in his face like spoiled children.

Initially the Council had been designed after the devastation the Kyuubi had brought to Konoha in hopes of combined Shinobi and Civilian together deepening their bonds to make Konoha even more prosperous than it initially had been. In the end that had probably been one of his gravest mistakes once made those that supported Danzou, those that were against the Sarutobi clan and finally those that saw him as weak made petition after petition in order to gain more power to the point where even he struggled to stand against him. It was by luck alone that the Fire Daimyo agreed that final say in how Konoha was run bar himself would fall to the Hokage, especially during times of war thus limited to the Council's say in certain matters. As much as a relief it had been damage had been done with no way to undo it.

There was no way for him to disband the Council without causing some kind of power conflict between the clans which was not something he was willing to risk. Especially with the Chuunin exams looming over them so closely, for the mean time he'd allow things to be as they are.

Once Minato decided to return to Konoha they would have to discuss about the Hokage position while Hiruzen would not by any means force the title onto the man a much needed talk about a successor was needed. His reinstatement had been during a time of necessarily and need rather than anything else; with his old age it would not be much longer before he would be incapable of maintaining the mantle. With Tsunade missing, Jiraiya refusing to take the position and Orochimaru being a rouge-nin there were no other candidates that were able to become the Godaime; but he knew that Danzou's age would not stop him from trying.

There was no way in hell that he would allow that man to ever become Hokage, he'd practically be sentencing Konoha to a living hell. The man was too entirely focused on his own agenda to stop and think of all the horrendous deeds that he done in the past, believing that his way was right and anyone that opposed him needed to be killed. That was not the type of leader Konoha desperately needed.

On the brighter side of things he had been pleased to know that the mission had been going rather smoothly so far nothing had particularly happened given on incident during Halloween night. The target got into the school causing panic to run rampant, but effectively had been dealt with. Secure had doubled in size with the help of the Dementors.

The Sandaime suppressed a shudder. He had come in contact with those dreadful creatures once before it had not been very pleasant, how one could allow those soul-sucking monsters near children was beyond his understanding! Even being aligned with was rather unnerving, why the British had subjected themselves to that he would never know. At least they had not caused anymore problems as far as he knew. Though that didn't mean he had to like the idea.

He only hoped that Dumbledore knew exactly what he was doing.

(2)

Naruto ended up taking Sakura back to his apartment at first he thought about taking her straight home but decided not to in fear of getting verbally assaulted by her parents like he normally happened whenever being around someone else. Of course he had never personally interacted with her parents before it seemed like a safer idea to avoid them for the time being.

She was laying sound asleep in the spare room having cried herself into complete and utter exhaustion, not that he could personally blame her. He knew exactly what it was like finding out that some things just aren't what they seem; but he overcame that and resolved to be stronger, in order to show the people of the village that he wasn't what they thought he was and earn their respect, and their loyalty. He wanted to become someone that all of Konoha could rely on to protect them. Once he was ready and able to that is. During his time away from Konoha Naruto finally realized just how ill prepared he was as a Shinobi, and how much work he needed to get where he desired.

Thanks to Dad, Iruka and the others he had grow a little bit from where he use to be plus gained a few times. As painful as it sounded Naruto had to agree with Kakashi when it came to his Chakra Control, even his own Dad pointed it out to him, before recommending easy exercises. Apparently, he hadn't been the only one in his family that had a difficult time with using his chakra. It wasn't entirely perfect as of yet but was slowly nearing the point to where it could be considered acceptable. Not that it would ever stop him from trying new Jutsu out or anything.

Another odd thing that had happened when he used his Oiroke no Jusuhis dad had been rather impress but, hadn't gone flying with a nosebleed and at the same time sternly requested never to use that technique again while praising him for his inventiveness and began to question him on how he created the technique. Needless to say, it had been one of the best bonding moments that he could have ever had! In fact he had been jumping for joy when his dad had even encouraged him to continue creating new techniques... as long as they weren't perverted like that one.

It was a small price to pay but hell he was definitely going to make new ones!

In fact he had learned a lot from his dad...especially about Kakashi, a heavy sigh escaped his lips casting another glance at the sleeping girl in the next room. He manoeuvred himself quietly to the kitchen preparing something at least edible for them to eat once Sakura decided to wake up, whenever that was.

Hatake Kakashi, prodigy son of the infamous White Fang of Konoha, Hatake Sakumo; a man that failed a mission in an attempt to save his comrades from being killed only to end up being dishonored and shunned by civilian and comrade alike eventually being driven to seppuku as his last resort. That moment had defined Kakashi's mind becoming a person that was strictly by the book placing the mission above the very lives of his comrades in order to avoid the same mistake his father had only for it to lead to the death of his fellow teammate, Uchiha Obito, the one whom gave Kakashi his Sharingan and led him to who he was now.

However, Naruto couldn't help wonder if the constant losses in his life had driven his sensei overboard. There had been times when Kakashi managed to be funny other times he could be rather irritable to deal with like had been this morning, completely ditching Sakura and him as he went to go and train Sasuke; probably thinking it was the only way to repay his debt to Obito and seeking forgiveness.

Not that he was certain but after seeing the man standing in front of the monumental stone it made sense. Unfortunately dotting on their third member did nothing to help Sakura and himself grow as a Shinobi, without an Jounin Instructor to help guide them, what was the point in being on team seven? While Sakura could probably seek out another Shinobi to help with her training, any chances of him getting any help was next to nothing, having just some scrolls were helpful it wasn't the same not having someone to train with. He didn't dare bother Shikamaru, Shino or even ask Asuma-sensei for help either, they were busy with their own teams to spare any time.

But where to start was the question? His stamina and endurance were in top shape exceeded to Jounin level at best, but he was lacking heavily when it came to Genjutsu, his Ninjutsu needed definitely work and lastly his taijutsu wasn't entirely bad when it came to strength still needed more training.

Naruto brought his fingers to nose pinching the bridge. "What a mess I really need to start getting my ass into gear," He murmured under his breath shaking his head, moving his arms backwards to grip the counter's edge as he leaned back. His eyes moved towards the blinking dulled lights that hang above. "...but how?"

"T-the beginning usually works..."

"S-Sakura!" His tone went high pitched being caught in surprise seeing the pink-haired girl leaning against the doorway wearing a tired smile. "W-what are you doing up?"

Sakura shrugged. "I slept long enough. Besides I could hear you thinking from a mile away," She clarified waving her hand dismissively.

"Gee thanks," Naruto remarked dryly. "...How are you feeling?"

A stilled silence appeared for several moments staring at one another openly as Sakura made her way to the table placing herself in a seat. Her features had a pensive look staring at him with an unreadable gleam that passed through her eyes.

"You know..." The words were quite barely being able to be heard due to his sensitive hearing he had been able to pick it up rather easily. "I use to think, when our teams were announced, that somehow Sasuke and I would end up together and I'd end beating Ino-pig for sure! But...I know that's not that case. He doesn't really care for me at all I'm just someone that's on his team, nothing more nothing less." Shutting her eyes tightly as she shook her heard. "I can't believe I deluded myself into believing I could win his affections. Everything's changed since leaving the Academy... you've changed the most Naruto." A sharp, sad laugh escaped from her. "You're not the same annoying boy..."

Naruto felt his eye twitch. "Gee thanks Sakura."

"I don't mean that in a bad way," Sakura shook her head. "Ever since Waveyou're different, stronger and wiser I guess. You stopped calling me 'Sakura-chan' I knew then things were never going to be the same. Hell, you were even sent to a different country with a different team growing further-"

"I don't think I've grown all that much," Naruto confessed honestly, it was the truth.

Sakura snorted bemused. "You have. You just don't realize it Naruto, but you've definitely grown. I've seen you concentrating more thinking things through before jumping into anything, hell you even defended Kakashi-sensei today; you've never done that before." She pointed out with a wry smile. "The only one that hasn't grown is me..."

Naruto frowned. "Don't say that. Of course you've grown-"

"No. I haven't." She interrupted sharply shooting him a glare. "I'm the weakest and most immature out of the three of us; I can't spar with either of you, my jutsu arsenal is basically next to nil and I can barely keep up with the two of you when you run!"

Naruto remained silent watching her become more distraught at her words. What in the world had brought this type of reaction on, had Sasuke's rejection hit straight towards her subconscious insecurities? He had suspected for awhile that Sakura had kept most of her inner thoughts to herself wearing a facade much like he had. And now, everything was pouring out like a facet. In the words of Shikamaru; how troublesome. Handling girls had never been one of his strong suites especially crying girls. But, Sakura was his teammate and he owed it to her to help get through the breakdown she was having. He swallowed audibly massage his temple.

"Sakura," He began slowly clicking his tongue against his teeth. "Why did you become a Shinobi?"

She looked up obviously surprised by the question, blushing not a moment after. "W-well it was back in the days when Ino-pig and I were friends once we got sent into the Academy. Sasuke was going-"

"I meant before you even had a crush on him," Naruto amended correctly.

Silence appeared once more as Sakura went into deep thought seriously thinking over why she had chosen their current profession. "When I was a little girl my parents would always tell me this story of a young genin girl with long red hair that saved villages. It was one of my favorite stories, hearing about a strong female heroine that didn't need the aid of a man. I aspired to be like that, standing on my own two feet fighting to protect the people I love." She smiled ruefully. "Only I ended up becoming something I hated; a girl that waited for her so-called prince to come and save. Kinda pathetic isn't it?"

"Maybe," Naruto wasn't going to bother sugar-coating anything. "But, the fact you wanted to become someone strong is admirable. You just got sidetracked along the way, it happens. Hell it happened to me! I was so eager to becoming Hokage and making everyone respect me that I forgot the underlying principals about being the Hokage want it entailed. Ignoring Iruka-sensei's and Hokage-Oji's advice hadn't done me much favor Sakura, but I realize that now. I plan on changing that and becoming stronger but this time around I'm going to do the right way with good reasons. You can't let something prevent you from getting back up and trying again."

"N-Naruto!"

A roguish smile made its way onto his face smirking at the pink-haired girl. "That's how I roll Sakura. If I get knocked down I plan on getting right back up. So what are you going to do? Do plan on wallowing in self pity or do you want to do it right?"

Sakura's eyes began to widen at his words staring in shock and awe before shutting them tightly, tears slipped down as a true smile blossomed onto her face. "Yes!"

"Then let's get started!" Naruto cried thrusting his fist into the air cheerfully as Sakura practically jumped off of the seat.

At least that had been taken care of a sad look didn't suite Sakura at all. He much preferred to see a smiling face instead! Together the two began to plan on a training regime for the both of them. It maybe seem like nothing at first but it was the start of something rather than nothing.

(3)

"What the hell Shikamaru!?" The irritating shrill of Ino rang loudly through his ears staring into the angry eyes of the blonde girl. "Get off your lazy ass and put some muscle into it!"

Shikamaru frowned letting out a long, drawn out yawn basking gleefully as the girl cringed back. "Calm down Ino, you're making it sound like I don't pull my own weight during training." As he stretched out his arms and yawned again, blinking tiredly at her. "We've been at this nearly for an hour can't we do something else?"

"NO!" Obviously that had been the wrong thing to say. Her arms folded against her chest staring down at him condescendingly, lips curled into a sneer. "We need to finish this exercise first! Honestly," Ino placed her hands upon her hips, expression changing sorrowfully. "It's like you don't even care, Shikamaru. Not that it should surprise me, you've always been rather lazy even when were back at the Academy. Can't you for once get your behind moving?"

"And why would I ever do that?" He retorted flatly, not wanting to give into her demands.

Ino glared at him. "Do you want to be doing D-Rank Missions for the rest of your life?"

"Those missions require the least amount of work and requirement to move," Shikamaru replied informatively, shrugging his shoulders very lazily.

The blonde girl let out a very frustrated scream throwing an angry glare at him. "Why did I have to be stuck on such a lazy team; first you lazy around all day, Chouji just sits around and eats and all Asuma-sensei does is play Shogi with you. We don't do ANY real training!"

"Shogi is training," Shikamaru rebuke rolling his eyes looking very amused.

"Don't speak to me like I'm a child, Nara Shikamaru." Ino was no longer in the mood to be fooling around wearing her features outlining the tiredness. "I know you use Shogi to come up with strategies with Asuma, and Chouji's main fighting style from his clan relies upon their weight. My clan uses mind techniques and yours use the Shadows, that's all fine and dandy Shikamaru but we can't rely on them to get us out of trouble! We need to cover our weakness."

Shikamaru snorted. "You think too much Ino. Listen, I know what you're trying to say but you need to chill alright? Asuma-sensei and I have everything under control. So don't go worrying over your pretty little head over it."

"Why do I even bother trying?" Ino murmured shaking her head, biting her lips. "You don't understand. None of you do. Fine, whatever I get it. I'm heading home to train with my dad; tell Asuma-sensei and Chouji that I said I'm heading home. See ya Shikamaru." She waved dryly walking away into the distance until she was no longer seen.

The brunet Shinobi shook his head promptly falling onto the grass staring up at the bright blue sky hanging above. A satisfied smirk slowly etched upon his face rather happy with his victory allowing himself to concentrate on the clouds that floated slowly.

Now it was time to get some well earned sleep.

(4)

Night had fallen leaving not even the smallest glimmer of light, the clouds blocking the moon. No sound could be heard for miles even the animals near the forest remained completely silent. It was the perfect night for a run. Darting swiftly on the branches a pair of sapphire orbs narrowed thinly within the darkness, gaining upon his prey that had been hunted relentlessly. Nothing would stand in his way of capturing it. Swinging his legs forward performing a somersault within the air managing to land perfectly upon the padded ground, he carefully checked around before continuing forward furthering away from safety.

His prey was still within his sights. A bit far from his current position but not too far away that he couldn't track him. The adrenaline rushed through his body this time falling on foot rather then above, making things much easier for him.

However, being careful was the key as he did not want to scare his prey away. That would not be favourable.

A cold smirk found it's way onto his face proceeding to chase after the prey, lunging forward with incredibly speed and grace dodging the sharp, small branches that attempted to in his way. His never moved his head keeping it forward focused on his target, swinging his arm backwards to grip one of his kunai before flicking it forward into the desolate shadows of the forest. A few moments later a sound echoed sharply in the air, he knew that it hit.

Not too long after he came across a big, black furred dog that growled loudly at him.

How cute.

"How about you drop the act? I'm not stupid like everyone else," Came his cold words, keeping his eyes trained on the canine before him. "Show yourself now."

The dog remained stilled eyeing him with an unreadable –no an intelligent gleam that passed through the grey orbs. However, it had passed far too quickly for him to pinpoint while the stare remained fixated on him for quite a bit; the so-called canine bowed his head, almost mockingly. Soon afterwards the dog began to change from a beast into a man. A tall man with dark black hair that reached past his waist, he had a gaunt look to him, he could have been mistake for a skeleton if not for the amount of color on his face. Unfortunately, years of malnourishment had not done him much favor.

"And so we meet," The hard tone came as a man with blonde hair made his way out of the shadow, his eyes danced with bemusement.

The man watched him with apprehension now, his eyes darting all over the place yet did not look entirely worried. It proved how smart and courageous the man was, that or he was just stupid and didn't know whom he was dealing with. Not that it mattered. He had a job to do and he planned on carrying it out, taking a deep breath and spoke the two words.

"Sirius Black."

(5)

Chapter end.

I bet none of you were expecting that, huh? Anyway once again I'd like to give a big shout out to all of my reviewer's and my beta; Alex McDowell for all the support. You guys are what keeps this fic going!

I want to say have a Merry Christmas or whatever holiday that you celebrate and a Happy New Year!

Make sure to leave what you liked, what you disliked and where you think this fic is going!

So until January everyone!