Chapter 14: Genin


Naruto was bored, bored, bored. Who knew that Itachi had been so right regarding genin missions? D-Ranks and E-Ranks everyday? Not only were the missions stupid, like picking up trash, watching paint dry, and mowing lawns, but the pay was abysmal. It was only a couple of ryo above minimum wage. For ninja? Come on!

Kakashi-sensei had just dismissed them for the day, lazy bum. Naruto kicked a stone in his path, rubbing the cuts and scratches all over his arms and face. They were feeling a lot better since that morning, when they had to hunt down that stupid cat, Tora. What had been even worse was Oji-san's smug smile. Sure, Naruto and Sasuke had released Tora on the village more than once, piling more paperwork on the Old Man's desk than he knew what to do with, but still…

Of course, though, as a natural prankster, Naruto understood the idea of karma and embraced the fact that he and Sasuke had probably deserved to be on the receiving end of Tora at least once. But only once! Naruto told himself. Then he remembered the Hokage's mournful expression at the paperwork resulting from the damages incurred during the chase, and suddenly the day seemed to pick up immensely. Also, the sight of the Daimyo's wife smothering the cat into submission – now that was justice.

"Hey, dobe!" Called a voice from behind. Irritated, Naruto turned suddenly, noticing the looks people were shooting him at the somewhat insulting greeting. Naruto wondered when he had become used to the respectful looks that had once been looks of disgust.

"Teme! What do you want?" Naruto returned rather curtly.

"Heh." Sasuke smirked, noticing Naruto's annoyance and reveling in it, even. "I was wondering if you wanted to do some training together? These D-Ranks are making me soft," Sasuke said, continuing to walk.

"Sure." Naruto said nonchalantly, falling into pace beside Sasuke, slightly surprised that he wasn't surprised at the casual offer to hang out. Water under the bridge, as people say.

Suddenly, a brilliant idea occurred to Naruto. "Actually, you know what'd be fun to do? We could pull some pranks! Chasing Tora all over the village is making me nostalgic."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, as if to ask how Naruto knew such a big word. "I'd rather train," Was the blunt reply.

"You're no fun, you know that?" Naruto said irritably. After all those simple missions, he needed an outlet for his frustration. His poor victims…

Sasuke just stared impassively, maintaining the cool exterior the village had come to associate with him.

"Fine, it could be kinda like training!" Naruto said. "Instead of hitting individual targets, we can hit the clan houses or something."

Sasuke could see that Naruto was dead set on pulling a prank, multiple pranks actually. To be honest, he was beginning to itch for some action too. Itachi had warned them about D-Ranks, but experiencing them was even worse than the stories. Sasuke was just about to agree – reluctantly – until he realized what building they were now in front of. The Hospital.

Naruto too noticed the sudden change in Sasuke's train of thought as he too began to think of Itachi. Suddenly, pranking didn't seem like such a good idea. "You know, Ayame-nee-chan's been asking about nii-san. I haven't seen him in a while." Naruto winced at how awkward that sounded.

"I guess we should visit," Sasuke said after a pause. He looked at Naruto in the eyes. "I mean, we haven't visited together ever, I think."

Both boys realized with a guilty pang that this was indeed true. "Well, let's change that," Naruto said, heading towards the double doors, Sasuke right next to him.

Both boys signed in and made their way to Itachi's room automatically, having memorized the way to their older brother's room by heart. They slowly entered, finding the room empty except for the lone occupant in the bed, the heartbeat monitor beeping steadily in the room.

Blue eyes met dark eyes, and a silent agreement was made. Both boys made their way to the guest table in the room, each taking a seat. They were silent for a long while. Naruto cleared his throat, then fell silent, his words dying in his throat.

Sasuke cleared his throat, then he too fell silent, not really knowing what to say.

"Hi, nii-san–" They suddenly said at the same time. Looking at each other in surprise at the sudden noise, they grinned at each other, or in Sasuke's case, smirked.

"I'm finally here with Sasuke-teme," Naruto said, turning back to Itachi. "Guess there's a lot to catch up on…"

"Dobe," Sasuke muttered under his breath, not unhappily though. As Naruto began talking about everything that had happened to them since that day, Sasuke felt a sense of completeness that he hadn't felt in a while. He was reunited, in a sense, with his brother. A brother from another mother, he thought amusedly to himself.

Looking at Itachi's peaceful face, Sasuke mused that the only hole in his heart was the one Itachi had occupied. In order to fill it fully, they had to heal Itachi, wake him up from his coma. I'll find a way to help you, nii-san, Sasuke thought determinedly. Then he looked at Naruto's animated face as he described his prank on the Hokage's monument. Both of us will.

IIIIII

After another two weeks of nothing but D-Ranks, Team 7 was getting restless. Naruto was at least, and it was getting on the Hokage's nerves. As the team headed up to the Hokage's office, Naruto prepared his outburst. He was going to get a C-Rank today, if it was the last thing he did!

"Hey, Oji-san!" Naruto yelled over-loudly as he barged through the door. The blonde stopped short as he saw two other teams in the office. It was Kiba, Hinata, and Shino's team and Shkamaru, Choji, and Ino's team. The teams and their jonin senseis were all looking at Naruto in annoyance. Naruto could even hear the sighs of his own team behind him. regardless, he pushed on. "We want harder missions! D-Ranks are too easy!"

"Naruto! Stop nagging the Hokage!" Iruka yelled out, red flushing his annoyed expression. "A ninja has to learn to accept the mission he or she is given!" His anger only flared even more at Naruto's flippant dismissal of his words. The nerve of the brat… It was good to be able to yell at Naruto, though, now that the brat had graduated.

"Blow off, Naruto! We were here first!" Kiba retorted. "If any team's gonna get a C-Rank, it's ours!"

"Oh yeah, doggy-breath?! I could take you and all your team at once! We're the ones who deserve a C-Rank!" Naruto exclaimed. Kurenai raised an eyebrow as her student and Kakashi's student began to bicker and argue right in each other's faces. She looked over at Kakashi. This was the team that Kakashi had passed?

"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered. Everybody was thinking much the same thing as they sighed at the two loudmouths' antics, Iruka took a calming breath and managed to turn to Kakashi. "Kakashi, mission successful, I presume?"

"Indeed, Iruka, Hokage-sama. Here's the report."

Hiruzen skimmed over it before quickly tossing away the offending pieces of paper. "Alright. It seems that every team here wants to take a C-Rank. Is that correct?" All of the genin, save Shikamaru, Shino, and Sasuke nodded eagerly. Those three were simply too cool for words. Or too lazy. The Hokage looked to the jonin with a questioning look.

"Kakashi, Kurenai, Asuma?" Kakashi's nod resembled more a shrug, while Kurenai gave stronger affirmation. Asuma almost seemed to reluctantly give his approval with a sigh. This caused the Hokage to sigh in frustration.

"Ok. I have here two C-Ranks–"

"We'll take it!" Naruto yelled.

"No way! We'll take it!" Kiba yelled even more loudly, before receiving a withering glare from his sensei.

"Quiet!" Iruka yelled. "The Hokage's still speaking!"

Hiruzen chuckled a bit before taking a slow puff of his pipe. "Thank you, Iruka. As I was saying, since Kurenai's team was the first to request a C-Rank, they will receive this one."

"What?! Are you kidding me?" Naruto yelled incredulously while Kiba whooped in victory. Naruto was livid, Sasuke scowled, while Sakura looked disappointed. Kakashi's head remained buried in his little orange book.

"Kurenai, here is your mission brief," The Hokage said, gesturing Iruka to give the scroll to Kurenai. Kiba whooped as he left the room, smirking widely at Naruto's scowling face. Hinata followed him timidly as Shino remained as impassive as ever.

"Now, I have one more C-Rank."

Naruto immediately whipped his head towards Shikamaru. The lazy bum looked like he was about to fall asleep. Choji was still munching on his chips happily. Ino, though, looked extremely fired up. Naruto glanced at his teammates. Sasuke looked disinterested as ever, but Naruto knew that he was also getting restless. Sakura tried to hide it for the sake of being polite, but she really wanted a C-Rank too. In terms of wanting it more, Naruto knew that Team 7 wanted it more.

"And, since our client is actually here, why don't we let him choose," The Sandaime offered, unwilling to become the victim of another of Naruto's pranks. "Send for Tazuna-san."

As the doors to the office opened, every eye swiveled to the client. He was an old man drinking from a bottle, a towel around his neck, a wide hat covering his head and shoulders from the sun.

"Ah! Tazuna-san. One of these teams here is available for your mission. You may choose which one you'd like to accompany you," The Hokage said amiably. Iruka raised an eyebrow at the Hokage's tactic at pitting the two teams against each other. It was better than focusing Naruto's pranks towards the office, that was for sure.

"Eh?" Tazuna grunted out. "These are the teams? They're kids!"

"And we're strong enough to take care of your problem, old man! Believe it!" Naruto yelled suddenly, causing Tazuna to wince at the volume.

"What a brat! You're so loud!" He exclaimed, causing Naruto to glare at the man. Before Naruto could say anything in reply, Sakura furiously slapped her hand over Naruto's mouth and put the boy in a chokehold. "Shut up! Before you ruin all our chances!" She hissed at the blonde, before smiling sweetly at Tazuna. Sasuke only looked on amusedly as Naruto flailed against Sakura's strength.

Tazuna turned to Asuma. "Are you sure that you guys are gonna be able to protect me?"

Asume took another puff of his cigarette. "You bet. My team may not look like much, but they're great at working together. Plus, I'm a jonin, so anything they can't handle, I can definitely take care of. You're more than safe with us."

Tazuna looked thoughtful and then turned towards the other team. He looked at Kakashi who was reading Icha Icha, infamous books. Naruto tugged at Kakashi's sleeve while still being restrained by Sakura. "Kakashi-sensei! Tell him! Tell him how strong we are!" Naruto pleaded, but Kakashi didn't even look up from his book.

"Eh? What was that, Naruto?" The masked man said absentmindedly.

"You masked pervert!" Naruto yelled before being punched again by an irate Sakura.

Tazuna sweatdropped before turning back to Asuma. "Alright, you guys've got the job." Asuma chuckled as he grabbed the mission briefing. He turned to Kakashi, who was still absorbed in his reading. He knew better though. The man was observing everything going on around him intently. He shook his head, looking at his friend's team. He too had been surprised when Kakashi stated that his team passed. This year apparently, was different from the other years, even if Asuma didn't really see how that was a good thing. That Naruto Namikaze wasn't anything like he had expected.

As Shikamaru walked out of the office, he sighed. "What a drag…" Choji said nothing, but continued to munch on his chips. Ino though, looked triumphant. "Ha! Take that Forehead!"

Sakura immediately became fired up and let go of Naruto. "Whatever, Ino-pig! You just got lucky that nobody on your team's as loud as Naruto!"

"Sakura!" Naruto whined. "What are you talking about? Ino's even louder than me!"

Ino was incensed. "Me?! Louder than you?! Who are you deluding?! You're like a foghorn!" She yelled.

"Whatever blondie!" Naruto replied flippantly. "Why don't you finish your C-Rank while we take a B-Rank!"

"Who are you calling blondie?!" Ino exclaimed. "You're blonde too!"

Naruto just stuck out his tongue. "I'm a guy blonde, so that makes me smarter than you cause you're a girl blonde!"

Ino was speechless. "You, you… blondie!" She shouted, to which Naruto smirked. "Can't come up with anything better, huh Princess? Shoo shoo," Naruto waved his hands dismissively.

Ino just stood there, mouth agape, about to unleash hell on Naruto until Asuma popped back in and dragged her out. "Come on, Ino. We've got a mission to take care of." Naruto could hear Shikamaru just outside the door. "Troublesome."

"Come on, Gramps!" Naruto complained, wheeling back onto the Hokage. "We definitely wanted that mission more than those guys did!"

The Sandaime raised his hands placatingly. "Sorry, Naruto, but it was Tazuna-san's decision, after all. But don't worry, I'll have a C-Rank for you the next time you come in. I promise. In the mean time, why don't you take another D-Rank."

Kakashi though knew the reason. The Sandaime worried for Naruto's safety, and didn't want to allow the young genin to leave the village just yet. Kakashi's eye crinkled upwards again. "Of course. Thank you, Hokage-sama. And we understand, don't we?" Kakashi asked his students, adding in a bit of menace to make sure his students remained polite.

Naruto gulped before nodding reluctantly. "Fine. Let's just get going," He grumbled before stomping out of the office, followed by Sasuke, scowling deeply, and Sakura, angry at Ino for getting a C-Rank before her.

Kakashi just smiled at Iruka and the Sandaime. "They've still got to learn patience. We'll be back soon," He said cheerily. Iruka and Hiruzen both shared a glance. No prank? What a relief.

IIIIIII

"Good, that went by faster than usual," Kakashi said pleasantly. "Why don't you guys take a half hour break, and then we'll meet back at the Hokage's office to deliver our report." With that, he left in a cloud of smoke. Sasuke took the time to glare at the wall they had just painted, before he too left the area. Sakura looked around awkwardly and quickly ran after Sasuke. Naruto took the time to glare once more at the drying paint, which he could have sworn was laughing at him. Finally, the blonde snorted in disgust and left, going after his two teammates.

"Hey, guys! Wait up!" Naruto called. "You wanna grab something to eat before we head out? Although you guys did ditch me right after the bell test," Naruto mumbled under his breath.

Sasuke just smirked, having caught the last part. Sakura hesitated. She really wanted to spend some time with Sasuke-kun… alone! But if it meant having Naruto tag along, she guessed she could deal with it for a little bit. He wasn't that bad. Compared to a tsunami at least…

"No." Sasuke bluntly said, eyes straight ahead as he walked to Naruto's apartment. Naruto had finally convinced Sasuke to become his roommate. It saved rent, and it was a nice change of environment, considering that the Uchiha compound… had too much memories.

"Are you sure, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura asked somewhat hopefully.

"Hn." Translation: Very sure.

Sighing in defeat, Sakura then looked at the sky worriedly. "Kakashi-sensei said a half hour, so I'm going to go home to take a shower. See you guys!" Sakura then ran off quickly, hiding her disappointment.

Naruto stared after her for a bit before turning to Sasuke. "That was cold. Real cold."

Sasuke just shrugged. "She's a fangirl."

Naruto shook his head slightly. "Still, she's our teammate now. You should at least give her one chance."

"Hn." Suddenly, Sasuke thought of something. "I thought you were going to prank the Hokage and Iruka for not giving us a C-Rank. Why didn't you?"

Naruto just grinned. "Lulling 'em into a false sense of security. Makes the next prank that much sweeter when they're completely off guard."

Sasuke just shook his head, a slight chuckle escaping his lips.

Naruto gasped loudly. "Did the teme just chuckle?!"

Sasuke's half-smiled, half-scowled at Naruto. "Dobe," Sasuke growled, causing Naruto to laugh. The two walked in silence for a while, ignoring the mixed looks being shot their way by the villagers. Standing together, they realized that they just didn't care anymore. Naruto wasn't going to abandon a friend now, screw what the villager's thought.

The young Uchiha looked at his best friend, who was checking over his gear out of habit.

"My vest looks okay," Naruto said to himself, shrugging around in the light, thin, blue sleeveless vest he had become accustomed to wearing over an orange t-shirt. It was emblazoned with the Uzumaki crest to remind him of his parents.

Naruto checked the twin kunai holsters, strapped to his khaki shorts. They were in good condition.

"We should've gotten that C-Rank," Sasuke said, a slight glower in his tone.

"Yeah," Naruto said, "Did you see Kiba's smirk! I wanted to knock it right off his smug face. And Shikamaru too! He didn't even want the mission! And Ino!"

"Yes, about Ino," Sasuke began deviously. "I hadn't realized that you too had gotten so… close. Calling her princess now?"

"Huh? Well yeah," Naruto said confusedly. "She's a prissy princess."

Sasuke just stared at his friend. "Hn." Translation: You really are a dobe sometimes. And it made Sasuke wonder if there really was anything going on between the two, Naruto seemed so oblivious. Personally, he didn't like the blonde. She seemed too superficial. A social climber.

Seeing that Naruto was still lost, Sasuke nearly palmed his face before asking, "You wanna head to Ichiraku's? You know Kakashi's gonna be at least an hour late."

"Are you really asking me if I wanna go to Ichiraku's? Does the sun rise every morning?" A pleasantly surprised Naruto asked almost rhetorically.

Sasuke smirked in response, but inside, he was thinking about what Naruto had said. Maybe Sakura deserved a chance. Both he and Naruto had taken a chance at reconciliation, and their old fights were finally in the past, where they belonged. The boys then rounded the corner to Ichiraku's.

"Ramen! Let's go!" Naruto cried, rushing ahead, eager to get a bite to eat, Sasuke following behind, shaking his head.

Meanwhile, as Sakura was heading to her house, she ran into her hated rival. "Ino-pig, here to gloat?" Sakura greeted tersely.

"Sakura, I need to talk to you," Ino replied in a hushed tone, drawing apace with Sakura. Ino's voice sounded worried, urgent almost, taking Sakura aback.

"What about?" She asked, curious.

"Sasuke."

Suddenly, Sakura was on guard. Was Ino trying to steal Sasuke away from her? Again? "What about Sasuke?"

"He's dangerous. You should be careful around him. Or better yet, stay away altogether," Ino said in a deathly serious tone.

"Dangerous? Sasuke? He's my teammate," Sakura pointed out skeptically, the tone in Ino's voice truly giving her pause. "You're not trying to steal him from me, are you?" Sakura asked tentatively.

Ino internally scoffed at the idea, suddenly wondering how long Sakura would still cling to the idea. Outside though, she remained serious. Sakura had to know. "No. I'm serious, Sakura. Listen. Remember when we were still in school, midterms?"

Sakura's step faltered. "A-are you… talking about the Uchiha Clan Massacre?"

"Yes," Ino said. "Ever since that night, I've been hearing thing about Sasuke and the Uchiha. Like how they're traitors, and cursed, and how they deserved what happened to them!"

Sakura suddenly turned a baleful glare at Ino. "How can you say those things about Sasuke-kun! He's probably not the most social person, but he's no traitor! He's not cursed, and he did NOT deserve what happened to him!"

Ino looked around anxiously, gesturing at Sakura to keep her voice down. "I'm not saying any of those things, Sakura! But if everybody else is talking about him, it might not be smart to be associated with him!"

Sakura looked shocked at her once friend. "Who are you, Ino? I don't know you anymore."

Ino glared at her friend. "Sakura–"

"No! You once thought the world of Sasuke-kun. Now, it's like you've betrayed him like everybody else in the class–"

"I'm not betraying anybody, Sakura! I've just grown past Sasuke!" The blonde exclaimed. "I'm just telling you that you should be careful around him. I've been hearing things ever since that night."

"No! I've done missions with Sasuke-kun! He's nothing like whatever rumors you've heard. Besides, those rumors are probably why he's so lonely! I mean, Naruto's his only friend!" Sakura retorted, vehemently defending her crush.

Ino just shook her head. "Naruto and Sasuke? Naruto's the son of the Yon–"

"Don't even go there!" Sakura nearly screamed. "You think I'm stupid? I hear the rumors too! But Sasuke and Naruto, they're friends. I know it. Despite the way they act towards each other! And I think Sasuke-kun considers me a friend too," Sakura added quietly.

Ino's eyes narrowed. "Sasuke's the Last Uchiha–"

"Is that what they're calling him now?" Sakura asked coldly. "Well guess what Ino. Sasuke's my friend, and unlike you, I stick by my friends."

Ino's glare turned incredibly intense in anger, before it gave way to one final push. "Sakura, we were once friends, and we broke it off over Sasuke. I've been thinking about how silly that was. I valued our past friendship, and because I still value it, I'm telling you as a friend that you should be careful around Sasuke."

Sakura flipped her hair prissily, to angry to register Ino's heartfelt request. "You just want to stay popular, Ino-pig. You can take your popularity and stuff it. Go do your C-Rank, Ino-pig!" Sakura broke off and walked briskly toward her home, taking the long way around simply to get away from Ino.

The blonde stood in the middle of the road, looking at Sakura's retreating figure. Sakura's final words rang in her head. Sakura was being blinded by her crush for Sasuke, yes, but was she right? Am I really interested only in my own popularity? That I would really abandon a friend? Am I that shallow? Ino, in a rare lack of poise, stomped her way home to pack, stewing on Sakura's words.

Two hours later, Naruto and Sasuke made their way to the Hokage's office, well rested and well fed. As they rounded the corner, they saw Sakura sitting morosely at the bench outside the complex. She didn't say a thing about them being late. Sasuke and Naruto glanced at each other. What happened to Sakura?

"Yo! Sakura! Did Kakashi-sensei show up yet?" Naruto called out.

Unfortunately for him, suddenly, all of Sakura's frustrated rants and introspective reflections hardened into a mental rocket, sights aimed at one unfortunate blonde. "Naruto! You're late!" Sakura suddenly burst out, louder than usual. "Oh, er… Hi, Sasuke-kun," Sakura said awkwardly, her emotions fluctuating violently. Ino's words suddenly rang in her head once again.

Naruto just raised an eyebrow. "Sasuke was late too, you know. And Kakashi-sensei's not here yet."

Sakura whirled on the blonde, blaming him for all of her present troubles. "Where were you, you idiot?!"

Naruto backed up slightly, not forgetful of Sakura's very-scary kick at Kakashi's baby makers. "We were catching a quick bite at Ichiraku's," He said, holding up his hands defensively.

Sakura suddenly whirled on Sasuke, betrayal and hurt evident on her face. "Y-y-you had lunch? W-without me?" Naruto and Sasuke sweatdropped. Sakura was bipolar: Suspicion confirmed.

"Um… well…" Sasuke began somewhat nervously, remembering the same incident playing through Naruto's mind. "You ran off so quickly, and you know how Naruto is. He just wouldn't stop bugging me."

Some part of Naruto was impressed at how cool Sasuke could stay, even under pressure like that. The other 99.99% of him was ready to kill the Uchiha for throwing him under the bus.

"Oh," Sakura said, somewhat mollified. Suddenly, she whirled onto Naruto, death again flashing in her eyes. "Naruto, you–"

Before she could finish, a nonchalant voice greeted the team. "Yo! How're you all?"

Saved! Naruto thought in immense relief.

"About time you showed up!" Sakura shouted out, an edgy emotional quality to her voice. Kakashi could tell something was bothering the girl, but decided to leave it be.

"Sorry about that," Kakashi said in a tone that clearly indicated he wasn't very sorry at all. "I had to stop to help an old lady with her groceries, you see…"

"Liar!" Sakura screeched, her anger redirected onto her chronically late sensei. "You're always late, and then you always lie about it!"

Kakashi just raised his hands placatingly, his eye crinkling in a half apology of sorts. "I've got the report here. Let's turn it in, shall we?"

Sasuke just sighed and led the way through the door. Naruto just smirked in amusement and followed Sasuke. Sakura followed reluctantly, her emotions still a jumble.

As the team entered the Hokage's office, they could hear words being exchanged inside. The sight that greeted them was certainly a surprise. It was Asuma's team. Asuma looked fine, but Choji had a nasty bruise on the side of his head and Ino had a pretty deep looking gash in her arm. Asuma was speaking.

"… So I brought the team back. I believe that this mission was mis-categorized," Asuma glared slightly at Tazuna, who quailed a bit. "As a result, my genin were injured." At this, Ino seemed to grumble a bit, but held her tongue. "I request that this mission be recategorized as a B-Rank and given to a chunin team."

The Sandaime looked thoughtful. "By your field report, I agree that the mission will have to be upgraded." Tazuna looked dejected.

"But please, kind sirs! I'm from a poor village in Wave Country! We don't have much money, and we're being oppressed by an evil businessman called Gato! If I don't finish the bridge connecting Wave to the mainland, we'll remain under his thumb forever!" Tazuna pleaded desperately.

Asuma and the Sandaime sighed. And here lay the crux of the matter. Finally, the Third came to a decision. "Alright, Tazuna-san. The way I see it, you require our assistance, and we are willing to assist, but we will need to compensated accordingly. You will have to wait, though for a chunin team to become available."

"But time is of the utmost importance!" Tazuna began, before being cut off by Asuma.

"And you may have saved time if you didn't lie about the dangers of your mission!"

"But I'm alright, Asuma-sensei!" Ino cried out. "We should've just kept going."

"Ino! Enough. We've had this conversation before," Asuma said quietly, not wishing to get into an argument with his genin in front of the Hokage, his father.

But Naruto saw this as the prime opportunity. He glanced at Sasuke. This is it! B-Rank! Here I come!

Sasuke rolled his eyes as he picked up Naruto's intentions. Though he wouldn't admit it, he wanted this too.

"Wait, wait! I think I have a solution!" Naruto piped up, as all eyes swiveled onto the blonde genin. Seeing that Kakashi was about to say something, Naruto hurried on. "Seriously, it's a good idea. The old drunk," Naruto gestured at Tazuna, who seemed to take offense, but said nothing, "Needs a chunin team, but he doesn't have the money and we don't have the team. So, I say that Asuma-sensei's team and our team go together for the same pay."

Hiruzen sighed as he thought about this arrangement. "Naruto–"

"Come on, Jii-san!" Naruto exclaimed. "It's perfect! We get the experience, the money, and we have two jonin on the mission! More than capable of handling the tougher ninja, right?"

Ino, seeing her chance, spoke up. "I agree with Naruto." Everybody in the room turned to her as if she had just sprouted a third head. Ino, suddenly realizing what that sounded like, tried to backpedal. "What I mean to say is that I think it's a good idea for both teams to go! This was our mission first, and maybe it's a little more dangerous than what we first expected, but I'd rather finish this mission with help rather than hand it off to some chunin team!"

Sakura looked at her rival in new eyes. She may not have liked Ino's words earlier, but her rival had backbone. It was something deserving of respect.

Asuma looked at his students, thinking on the matter. His kids had steel, there was no doubt about it. And as much as he hated to see them getting hurt, it was a part of the ninja life. Besides, if he were being completely honest with himself, he had taught his genin well. With a little assistance, they would be ready. Especially with Kakashi around. Maybe he could even get the guy to train his students for a little bit, take off some of the workload.

Releasing a big sigh for dramatic effect, Asuma made eye contact with his father. "I guess that what Ino says has a point. I don't mind continuing this mission if the Kakashi's team and the rest of my team want to go."

Shikamaru groaned. "If I say no, Ino won't stop bothering me for a month. I'll never get any peaceful time in. But if I go on the mission, I could get injured and possibly die. How troublesome. I guess I'm in." Naruto smirked as he saw Ino nearly pound Shikamaru into the ground. Classic.

Choji looked at his sensei and remembered the abject terror that he had felt when he had been about to die. He didn't ever want to experience that again. But then he remembered the way that Shikamaru and Ino had saved him. He didn't want to leave his teammates hanging either. What if they died because he wasn't there to cover their backs? That sealed it for Choji. "I'm with Shikamaru on this," He said cheerily, before whipping out another bag of chips from his endless supply.

Naruto and Sasuke shared a look. Boo to the yah! Believe it! Naruto conveyed through his facial expression. Sasuke just rolled his eyes and suppressed the urge to grunt.

Hiruzen sighed before turning to Kakashi. "Well, Kakashi. What about you and your team?"

Kakashi was still for a moment, also thinking about the dangers. His genin team was good, but were they ready for a B-Rank? And moreover, Tazuna-san did need the help. And Naruto. Would he be in danger outside of the village? Of course he would. Would he be able to protect the boy? Would he be able to protect himself? Sasuke? Sakura? They too would be in danger.

"Well, I'm alright with it," Kakashi began with an eye crinkle. Seeing Naruto about to start leaping and dancing for joy continued, "If my team is alright with the possibility of dying on this mission."

Everybody in the room was taken aback by the seriousness in Kakashi's words. Naruto and Sasuke shared another look, one that didn't escape the notice of the Third, Iruka, Kakashi, or Asuma. Interesting. Their bond is stronger than what it seems, each thought.

Surprisingly, Sasuke was the first to speak. "An Uchiha never backs down from a challenge," He said simply.

"Hn!" Naruto grunted enthusiastically in agreement, causing Sasuke to glare balefully at his friend. "I'm not going to die before I'm Hokage! Believe it!" Naruto exclaimed.

Kakashi smiled and nodded, expecting those responses. He looked at Sakura. "Well, how about it, Pinky?"

Sakura glared at her sensei with white hot anger. He did NOT just call her Pinky in public! Then she thought again about dying. She just couldn't… But Sasuke-kun… and Naruto, somewhat unfortunately, both said yes. She didn't want Sasuke-kun to think she was weak. And Ino too. She couldn't lose to Ino! "I think we can do it," Sakura finally said.

"Good, then it's settled," Kakashi said cheerfully, looking to Asuma, who nodded in reply. The Third looked thoughtful before giving Kakashi a meaningful glance. I sincerely hope you know what you're doing. In the end though, Hiruzen nodded.

Kakashi nodded gravely, conveying a seriousness between him and the Hokage. He would not betray the Sandaime's trust, not in such an important matter.

Suddenly, an explosive sound burst out. "Oh thank you! Thank you! You have no idea what this means to me, or my countrymen in Wave!" Tazuna exclaimed gratefully, unleashing a breath that he had been holding the entire time.

Naruto smirked. "Hey, you old drunk! If you had chosen our team the first time around, this wouldn't have ever happened, you know!"

At this, Ino took offense. "You idiot! Are you implying that we're weak or something! I could kick your butt into next week!"

"Gotta catch me first!" Naruto exclaimed before dashing out of the office and back to his apartment to start packing. Sasuke just smirked before following. All of his stuff was at Naruto's. Sakura rolled her eyes before asking Kakashi what she ought to pack. Shikamaru and Choji just stared. Blondes. How troublesome. Asuma chuckled, before turning serious. He hoped his team would be able to handle themselves this time. Iruka, who had remained quiet this entire time, remained silent. He would trust the Hokage's judgement, even if he didn't like it. The Sandaime hid his worry well. Naruto leaving the village would make him a target, but he would be safe enough. Hopefully.

"Na-na-na-na-na!" Naruto's voice suddenly rang out from the street as Ino chased after him, screaming for him to stop. Tazuna suddenly hoped that he wasn't making the last mistake of his life.


A/N: Short-ish chapter, but just wanted to get this out before the workload got insane at school. As a warning, don't expect an update soon. Sorry about that, but I still do hope you enjoy the chapter and review. Peace out!