Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Typically I don't add an author's note at the beginning of chapters of this story but I feel that this is a special occasion. With the installment of this chapter, this story has entered into the 100,000 word realm. This is remarkable and I just wanted to thank everyone who has supported me and this story. I thank thoughs who have just found this story, thoughs who started reading it somewhere in the middle, and a very special thanks to thoughs who have been here since the beginning.
Thanks for your support!
-A Testament of Things that Never Will-
Naruto folded his arms and watched as the small girl he had grown to care for so much in the past three weeks of having her live in his cramped apartment moved slowly through a kata of Tetsu Sheru. Over the time of knowing the girl he had never seen her make a full facial expression but over time he had begun to pick up on the small things, a twitch of the lips, the squinting of an eye, or the raising of a brow that would indicate the girls reactions to things and as he looked at her now he saw only pure determination.
Training the girl had been Yuri's idea, something about it being good training for being in charge of someone and not letting him forget the basics. Naruto used clones to work on the things he had to and when he was personally not busy with Kakashi, Yuri, or his team he could be found at the clearing he had first met Yuri in with the small girl teaching her everything he knew. He had to admit that it was good training as he was forced to accept nothing less than perfection from his pupil and in himself lest he teach her something incorrectly.
The child hadn't said a single word since Naruto had saved her from the bandits and he wasn't sure what to think of it. He had attempted on many occasions to have the girl say something but it appeared that the very idea of doing so dredged up a deep rooted fear in the girl that was hard pressed on leaving her. He never pushed her but every so often he would ask what her name was and she would simply stare at him, unanswering.
He had taken the time to purchase clothes for the girl with Sakura's aid which he was eternally grateful for. The child now had an assortment of everyday clothes she could wear and a few sets of clothes that she wore when training with Naruto. Her attire consisted of dark blue combat boots with ceramic plates embedded in the fabric and full length black shinobi pants with ninja wire incorporated in the cloth and was tucked into her boots. A dark blue qipao-style blouse with black trimmings under which was an unseen sleeveless white shirt covered her torso and on her arms were black fingerless gloves that went halfway to her elbow. Her dark red hair had been cut and was now layered and went down to a little past her shoulders.
A flash of light reflected off of her hitae-ate that was tied around her right bicep by a crimson band, the same spot he wore his. Naruto looked at it and felt a sense of pride and anger well up inside of him. The girl had been forced into the shinobi forces by the Council bring her into the village as a clan and while the Hokage had managed to pull off a miracle and stopped the girl from being forced into the Clan Restoration Program he couldn't change the fact that she was now a Genin despite having absolutely no training. However, he had managed to come to an agreement with the old man that the girl would not be placed on active duty and would be sent to the Academy for remedial studies for things that she had missed in her sudden promotion up the shinobi ranks.
He felt a presence appear behind him and felt that it wasn't anyone that would have normally come to him while he trained the girl. He glanced back and ice entered his veins. Hiruzen Sarutobi walked slowly toward him, his eyes watching the girl with a keen interest.
"I see that Yuri is having you train the child," the man said lightly, testing the waters. "If you push her as hard as Yuri pushes you then she will be the top of her class easily."
"I have no intention of making her the top of her class," he replied. "I just want her as ready for the real world as I can make her. If that causes her to be the top of her class then so be it."
The old man didn't say anything and Naruto appreciated the time he had to come to terms with his feelings. He was angry, but as he had been fighting that emotion ever since he had left the Council Chamber and as it slowly died down he found something else that hurt him even more.
"Do you hate me, Naruto?" the elderly man asked and Naruto turned to see sorrow and fear in the man's eyes.
The blonde shook his head slowly. "No," he answered, "I do not hate you."
Naruto raised his hand to stop anything the man had to say. "I did for a little bit after the meeting but as I thought about it I began to understand that you felt that you didn't really have a choice. You made the decisions that you felt were right for Konoha and as I came to understand that my hate and anger died but something else appeared."
The man swallowed and asked, "Could I asked what that emotion is?"
Naruto looked to the man and said, "Disappointment."
Never in his life had Naruto thought he could hurt the Kami no Shinobi. The man was one of the strongest shinobi alive and Naruto often thought that he was invincible but the look in the man's dark green eyes proved everything he had thought wrong. An ache formed in Naruto's heart and he hated himself for making someone that he cared for hurt so badly.
"As I reported," Naruto said, "I met the Raikage during my mission and while the arrangement could have been better the man meant me no harm. However, there was a bit of our conversation that I left out."
The old man cleared his voice and said, "You know that you shouldn't leave anything out of a report, Naruto."
"It wasn't anything that involved the safety of the village, more a curiosity than anything," the Genin replied. "The part of the discussion that I left out dealt with the philosophical question of whether it is possible to be a good shinobi and a good person at the same time. The Raikage, after a bit of talk, told me that it was impossible. Once you become a shinobi you leave the path of ethics and must do anything for the betterment of the village. I disagreed with him and told him that I thought it was possible and while I was telling him that the one person that came to my mind was you."
"Me?" the old Hokage questioned.
Naruto nodded. "I thought that the one person who stood for what was right, was you. I have never seen you do something that I would consider unethical and, while I am not that knowledgeable in ethics, I thought that you were the one person that might have been capable of being both a good shinobi and a good person. But then I saw you willing to place this child into the restoration program, despite everything she has been through, and I realized that you aren't so dissimilar to the Raikage. This, of course, isn't a bad thing considering that a Kage should do everything in their power to make their village safer and stronger but I guess I had put you up on a pedestal and it was...unpleasant to see that I was wrong."
"You gave me too much credit," the man said sadly. "I apologize for not living up to your expectations."
The blonde waved a hand and said, "It is I that should apologize. I shouldn't have assumed things that I didn't know but it has left me at a rather interesting point."
"The question remains: Is it possible to be a good shinobi and a good person?" Naruto answered. "I know that I can be a good shinobi and that I am capable of being a good person but what I did at the meeting showed me that these two things come to crossroads in matters that appear to be clear as day. If I had allowed the child to be placed in the program then I would never be able to live with myself so I chose to protect her but that put me against my village. I was willing to betray my village for this one child. Is my loyalty so weak? Can a shinobi be a good person if they are bound to a village? These are some of the many questions that have been on my mind since the meeting and while I don't regret my decision, I do struggle to find answers."
Hiruzen lifted a hand and placed it on the young Genin's shoulder. Naruto didn't resist the man and drew some comfort from the familiar touch. "You are one of the most loyal shinobi I have ever met in my life, Naruto."
"How can that be though?"
"It wasn't you who betrayed Konoha," the old man said. "It was Konoha who betrayed you. You brought that child here knowing that she would find sanctuary and it was Konoha who moved to use her as a tool. Never question your loyalty and as for being both a good person and a good shinobi, well, I'm looking at someone who has managed it so far."
Naruto bowed his head and muttered, "Thanks, for saying that."
"I mean it," the old Sarutobi said with a touch of conviction. "Now, I have some things to take care of. I'm glad that we could talk."
Naruto watched the man step away and before he could leave the blonde called, "Hey, did you want to get some roman later?"
The man looked back, happiness and joy sparkled in his eyes. "I would like that. Does seven at the usual place work?"
"See you there, Jiji."
The old man nodded and disappeared. Naruto turned back to the girl's training and felt a weight leave his shoulders. He felt better than he had for the past three weeks and was happy that his and the old man's relationship hadn't been destroyed by his actions.
He allowed the girl to go through a few more movements before calling to her, "Time for a break, kodomo."
-A Testament of Things that Never Will-
A swift strike and a step back followed by a heavy blow to the right. Surebu sucked in a breath, her body demanding air, and she kept perfect control of herself. Naruto-sama had taken it upon himself to train her to become a kunoichi, something that she relished and desired, and she would not disappoint.
The man had saved her life, ripped her from the torment of Sargent and the jaws of the Konoha Council. She may have been young but she had matured far beyond her age and she knew that she had been in a very dangerous position in that Council meeting. If it wasn't for Naruto-sama, Kakashi-sama, and Yuri-sama she would have been placed into a new life of torture and abuse that would have surely made her wish for death.
She moved through the second kata of the Tetsu Sheru and was honored that she was learning the very style of taijutsu that Naruto-sama used. She knew little about combat but was learning as fast as she could in fear of making her idol disappointed.
"Time for a break, kodomo."
She stopped moving and before she went to him she took a moment to marvel at what he had taken to calling her. Kodomo meant child and when he had first called her it she was shocked. She had been considered only a slave, something less than human, for her entire life and when he had acknowledged that she was human it had left her speechless, not that she had spoken once in a long time.
Surebu stood in front of the blonde man and waited for him to tell her what to do. The man smiled at her, something that she liked, and offered her a bento. She accepted it and a bottle of some green liquid that tasted only slightly better than spoiled mead.
"Eat, kodomo, and relax. We will call it a day for now," Naruto said.
She nodded and ate her food. She must not have realized how fast she was eating it and was scolded lightly by her hero. Over the course of being with Naruto she had noticed many habits that had formed from her time with the bandits. Eating quickly was one of them. She never knew when her next meal would come and if she didn't eat her food fast one of the other bandits would take it from her for themselves. She also didn't like eating with others around her and even now, with only her savior with her, she still turned her side toward him slightly to make it harder for him to take her food.
She hated those silly habits because they reminded her of her time of pain and she knew that they also hurt Naruto slightly. However, the man never said anything about it and only gave her a happy smile as he watched her eat. He did what he could to help her get over the nasty habits but they were so ingrained that she feared that they would never be removed.
As she ate she thought about her training and how much she had grown since she had been taken in by Naruto. She had learned how to tap into her chakra, an amazing feeling that warmed her from the inside, and how to control it. She could even walk up trees, thanks to her limited supply of chakra but Naruto had assured her that she would gain more as she got older and used more and more chakra. She was actively working on taijutsu and Naruto had taken it upon himself to give her an education that she had missed. Where most would find the idea of learning boring she loved it and while she struggled to read, having never learned previously, Naruto was a patient teacher and would help her every step of the way.
She loved reading, escaping the real world and entering a world of fantasy or education, and she loved learning about the world around her. It made her feel that her time with Sargent was only a small thing when she compared it to the vastness of the world and she drew as much comfort out of it that she could.
She had also learned about her clan, something that Yuri-sama talked to her about. There wasn't much information about them but she enjoyed her time with the black-haired Jonin. While she was learning about her clan, she made an effort to explore her kekkei genkai. She had tapped into it when she witnessed Naruto's fight and had worked hard to mimic the feeling. It was hard doing but with some training in drawing out killing intent she had managed to access a sliver of her talent. She could project hope, anger, and, the one she was the best at, fear. It wasn't surprising to her that fear was so easy for her to project since she had lived in a state of the emotion for almost her entire life.
She ate the final grain of rice in her bento and turned her focus to the final part of her meal. She had saved the three pieces of cooked meat for last and ignored the sauces that had been placed with them, preferring to enjoy the taste of the meat alone. Food was one of the things that she wanted the most and she tried many different things since she started living with Naruto. She had even taken to hiding some food in her room and she knew that it was a problem. After the first week, Naruto had helped her clean her filthy room and found several meals worth of food rotten and moldy. Of the non-perishables she had hidden, there was enough to almost restock the kitchen.
She had felt so much shame when Naruto had found the food that she had hid her face from him, not wanting to see the disappointment in his eyes. Howover, it never came and, instead, he had smiled gently and held her until she had mustered the courage to help him carry the food out of her room. She had learned not the hide raw meat and other things that could go bad but she could feel her cheeks start to burn in embarrassment at the fact that she was still hiding other things like granola bars, nuts, and three bags of jerky.
Eating the last piece of meat, Surebu closed her eyes and savored the taste. It was cook exactly the way she liked it and her heart warmed with love for the blonde next to her. She searched the bento quickly for even a single grain of rice she might have missed and when she was satisfied that she had eaten everything she handed the bento back to her sensei.
Naruto took it and asked, "Did you like it?"
He smiled and placed it into a brown cloth bag he carried some of his training supplies in. He placed his own bento into the bag and then turned to her. He studied her for a moment and she knew what was about to come next. It was something that had happened every day since he had taken her in and she felt regret and self-hate fill her.
"What's your name, kodomo?" he asked.
She knew that it was an innocent question but it caused her to hate herself. She hadn't spoken in as long as she could remember and she had even forgotten what she sounded like. Rule one still controlled her life and it was fear that kept her from breaking it. She wasn't afraid of Naruto as she knew that he would never hurt her but it was an ingrained fear that gripped her heart and strangled her voice.
She knew that it would be easy to answer him, that she was capable of overcoming her fear but she was terrified of the consequences of telling him her name. What if she told him her name was slave and he then started looking at her like one? She knew that it was a completely ridiculous thought but she couldn't, wouldn't, risk losing the only source of love she had ever had.
She she stared at him, she could see how much it hurt him to only call her child and while she liked it she knew that he wanted to call her something more meaningful. She knew that he wanted to call her by her name and the sad truth was that she hated her name.
A short time had passed as she thought about the question he had asked and he smiled. "Tell me when you're ready," he said.
The man may have been quick to hide it but Surebu was an expert at seeing emotions and she saw sorrow at her not answering. Her stomach clenched. The last thing she wanted was to cause her savior pain and she opened her mouth only to close it quickly, fear dominating her mind. She clenched her eyes and mustered as much courage as she could. Rule one had always protected her, kept her from being harmed more than anything else and she was loath to break it. But some things were more important than rule one.
She opened her mouth and very softly said her name. "Surebu."
Naruto's eyes snapped to her, his face filled with shock and she felt dread come over her. She had just broken rule one and she was going to be punished for it. She bowed her head and hunched her shoulders slightly. Her body trembled and she flinched when she felt something touch her. It took her a moment to realize that the touch was actually a hug and she felt warmth entering her skin. She cracked open her eyes, a shiver of fear rocking her body, and saw that Naruto held her in a tight embrace, his arms wrapped around her.
He pulled back slightly and she was shocked that his eyes were misted over, tears pooling at the corners of his eyes. "Oh, my dear kodomo. What tortures have you lived through? What pain have you suffered under such a name?"
She looked at his eyes and saw love, acceptance, and hatred for those who had harmed her. She leaned her head into his chest, her forehead rested on one of the many steel plates that were in his jerkin. He held her tighter and she felt safe. She had broken rule one and she felt safe.
"Would you mind, kodomo, if I gave you a new name? Something to help shed the last of your ties to your horrible past."
She nodded. The idea of gaining a new name was amazing and of all the people she had met since being free of Sargent, Naruto was the one she wanted to name her the most.
"Akahana," he whispered to her. "Akahana. It means 'red rose.' How does that sound?"
She felt tears spill down her cheeks and she nodded again.
"Then from now on you will be known as, Akahana Uzumaki Kanjo," Naruto said. "Do you mind if your middle name is the same as my last?"
She shook her head, emotions running rampant in her heart. She had finally gained the one thing that she had wanted for her whole life.
-A Testament of Things that Never Will-
Hiruzen scanned his files that involved the Chunin Exam that would be taking place in the next two days. The Raikage would be coming for the third part of the exam, which made the Hokage nervous but he couldn't say no as it would be an insult of monstrous proportions. He sighed and decided to deal with that situation when came up and set the documents that dealt with it aside.
The old Sarutobi read over a few files of the Konoha teams that would be taking place and knew that he wouldn't find Team Kakashi in them. Kakashi was going to have them fill out the admission papers tomorrow and they would be turned in at the Academy. He felt a surge of pride and satisfaction that Squad Seven would be taking place in the exam. Of all the Genin Squads, that one was easily the strongest and would look the best for Konoha
He heard the knob of his door click and set the papers down. He hated it when people walked into his office without knocking and he hated it even more when it was Danzo Shimura who was the one doing it.
"It is polite to knock, Danzo-san," Hiruzen said sternly.
Danzo shuffled over to a chair and said, "I'll have to remember that for next time."
The old Sarutobi frowned and asked, "What do you want?"
"I am concerned about the loyalty of three of our shinobi," the man answered.
Hiruzen rose a brow and asked, "And which ones would that be?"
"Kakashi Hatake, Yuri Karasu, and Naruto Uzumaki."
The Hokage sighed heavily. "Is this about that Council meeting three weeks ago? We talked about this and it was decided that they were innocent of betraying Konoha."
"They openly defied the Council and even threatened to kill several of the members. This is not something that can be easily forgotten. I understand that Kakashi Hatake has always been a loyal shinobi, even serving as an ANBU Captain for some time, so it makes me think that the betrayal or disloyalty is more specific. Naruto Uzumaki is only a Genin and mimics what his senseis do so that makes me seriously question Yuri Karasu's loyalty."
Hiruzen looked at Danzo grimly and saw what the man was planning on doing. He thought about ending the discussion there but allowed it to continue.
"If Yuri Karasu isn't loyal to Konoha then we cannot allow him to influence our Jinchuuiki. The loss of such a weapon would seriously hurt Konoha's position of power in the Elemental Nations."
The old Hokage frowned at the implication that Naruto was nothing more than a weapon but didn't say anything.
"I have been all over Yuri Karasu's file and it is...suspiciously empty."
"That is because he was part of our Hunter-nin division and you know that those files are 'Hokage eyes only.' He has only been out of the Hunter-nin division for six months and has been meeting his mission quota since. In fact, he has gone above and beyond what would be expect of him."
Danzo nodded and said, "You are no doubt talking about the Wave mission?"
"The Shinobi Council was very impressed with Yuri Karasu's performance during that mission and if the man was disloyal then he would never have risked himself to that degree."
"That could have easily been an assessed risk," Danzo pressed. "Allow me access to his files so that I can assess his loyalty independently of you. I can investigate if he has had any contact with any anti-Konoha groups or if he has acted outside of Konoha's interest during his career."
Hiruzen sighed and said, "I trust the man with my life, Danzo. There is no doubt in my mind when it comes to his loyalty. That is more than I can say for some." He looked pointedly at the bandaged man.
Danzo closed his eyes and nodded. "I will defer to your position. I am simply looking out for Konoha."
"I know and I appreciate that," the Hokage answered.
He watched the bandaged man shuffle out of his office and frowned when his door was closed. He would have to speak with Yuri about Danzo's suspicions. The old war-hawk never let something go when it was in his beak and Hiruzen could see what he was after. There was no question about Yuri's loyalty, Danzo was after some form of blackmail so that he could use the powerful shinobi in his plans. What those plans were, the Sarutobi had no idea but he did know that they were not for the betterment of Konoha.
-A Testament of Things that Never Will-
Sakura ducked under a high kick and pressed her advantage, attacking the underside of her opponents thigh. Just before she could connect in her attack, her enemy twisted and a heave backhand sent her to the dirt.
"That was good, Sakura," a cute woman said as she exited a taijutsu stance and walked over to the pinkette. "You are using the Tsuyoi Hachisu well in combat. At the moment, I would say that you are above par in you taijutsu among other Genin."
Sakura pushed herself up, one of her hands pressed against her cheek, a soft teal mist floating off her hand and entering her cheek. She had been training with Keiko for a month, the former having trained her for the first full week with the only breaks spent sleeping and eating, and had learned much. For the first time in her kunoichi career did she feel that she was learning what she was supposed to learn.. She had picked the medic-nin skills up quickly, most of it being information on poisons, how to treat wounds, and other things. She got to hone those skills by helping Keiko out at the hospital and for the first few days she was under heavy observations by the strict medic-nin but as she got the skills down Keiko relaxed her supervision.
Sakura had done so many stitches, set so many bones, and treated so many different injuries that she had long gotten over her squeamishness and hesitance. She found that the acts had become second nature to her and only when Keiko felt that Sakura had come to respect the manual forms of medicine did she start teaching the pinkette the iryo ninjutsus that medic-nin were known for. Keiko had taken Sakura to a room with a small fish pond and had taught her how to form healing chakra. She then snatched a koi from the waters and slapped it onto a table that sat on a small island in the middle of the pond, a small bridge was all that connected it to the rest of the room.
That was how she had started learning the mystical palm jutsu, the initial iryo ninjutsu that any medic-nin learned. She had spent many a late night working with the koi, many dying before she finally got the jutsu down. She was far from a master of the jutsu as it took her some time to heal even the smallest of wound but it was something and she had only got faster since then.
She had also made huge leaps in her taijutsu, the foundation Yuri and Kakashi had formed with her had helped immensely. She now knew all the katas of the Tsuyoi Hachisu and had grown to be comfortable in the taijutsu's use. She knew that she was nowhere near as good in taijutsu as Naruto or Sasuke but she also knew that it wasn't a competition.
The pain in Sakura's cheek slowly diminished and she rose to her feet. "Thank Kami I figured this jutsu out or else I would be going home with bruises covering my body."
Keiko smiled and asked, "Did you want me to hold back?"
Sakura swallowed and knew how to answer the question. The first time Keiko had asked that question she had answered in the affirmative and had been beaten into the ground. Keiko told her that if she learned to take a hit during spars than she would be better off during a serious fight. She had always answered in the negative from then on.
"No," she said and sighed. "Keiko-sensei, weren't Sasuke and Naruto supposed to meet here sometime today?"
The cute Jonin put a finder to her lips and looked up as she thought. "Now that you mention it, I think Kakashi said something about that yesterday. It has been, what, three weeks since he, Yuri, and Naruto returned from the mission they went on?"
Sakura nodded. "Hai, that's right."
Movement in the corner of her eyes drew her attention and Sakura turned to see the black-haired serious-eyed Genin, Sasuke Uchiha, come walking into the training ground. He waved when she did and nodded his head slightly toward Keiko. Sasuke had also gone under some serious training for the past month. He had always been the top of the Academy but Naruto and he had developed a healthy rivalry that compelled both of them to work harder. Sasuke had found that he was skilled in genjutsu when he was training with Kurenai and she had nurtured this skill and tended to it diligently.
The female Jonin had trained her team but also found the time to teach Sasuke the basics of genjutsu. The boy was a prodigy, this all three of the Genin of Squad Seven knew, but he never let it get to his head. He had been arrogant in the Academy but that arrogance had been destroyed by Yuri talking to the boy and his developing relationships with his team. It seemed that the acceptance of others and, in turn, his accepting that he could love others as well, had dulled his hardened edges. He was still serious, quiet, and always suspicious of people he didn't trust but he was loyal to his team and loved his friends with a burning passion.
He had learned genjutsu like it was the easiest thing in the world and it was beneficial to him that it allowed for an extreme amount of creativity for the user. He had an adapt mind and could think of illusions that would trick even the most paranoid of shinobi. When he and Sakura spared, she would often have to adjust her chakra just to make sure she wasn't in an illusion so subtly did they take effect. He also had a knack at katon ninjutsu, which wasn't surprising considering that he was an Uchiha.
He had changed his clothes over the course of the month and now wore blue combat boots, black shinobi pants that he tucked into the boots, and his shirt was now dark blue and the sleeves went down to his elbows. Over his blue shirt he wore a sleeveless black jacket that had the red and white Uchiha clan symbol displayed proudly on the back He hadn't changed his hair at all but he had gained a calm and confident feeling about him that was shared by all the members of Squad Seven.
Sakura had also changed her look over the month, hers being a little more drastic than the Uchiha's. She had cut her hair so that it was level with her shoulders, the front being slightly shorter than the back and she always wore it in a ponytail. Cutting her hair had been a huge decision for her but Keiko had explained to her in detail how having long hair wasn't necessarily the best thing for a shinobi to have as it gave the enemy something to grab. She had feared that her Sensei was going to suggest that she get it all cut off but was relieved when she suggested the cut that she got. It took her a few days to get used to it and when she did she found that she loved it.
As for her clothes she had changed her entire wardrobe. She got a mesh suit that was hidden under a maroon jerkin, similar to Naruto's, with a zipper down the middle. The jerkin only went down to the bottom of her rib cage and was tight enough to revealed her small but growing bust that she was incredibly proud of. The belly portion of the mesh suit was covered by a white bandage that was wrapped around her belly. Black fingerless gloves covered her hands and cut off just passed her wrist with the rest of her arms up to her shoulders bare. The gloves were thin and were made of a tough fabric that allowed her to hold the blade of a scalpel in her palm without cutting the fabric. Black shinobi pants tucked into maroon combat boots finished her new attire.
Keiko had helped her pick out the clothing and she was pleased with the selection. It made her feel like a serious kunoichi and not some wannabe.
"Evening, Sasuke," she greeted the boy who returned the greeting.
Sasuke took in Sakura's battered and grass stained appearance and asked, "Keiko-san kicking your ass?"
She stuck her tongue out and and replied, "Like you would do any better."
The Uchiha smirked and nodded his agreement.
"How are you, Uchiha-san?" Keiko asked politely as she stepped near Sakura and helped the exhausted Genin heal her collection of bruises and scrapes.
"Doing well," he answered. "Kurenai-sensei has been very busy with her team since the Genin Exams are starting tomorrow and her team will be participating but she has answered all of my questions that I have had. Since she was busy, I have been spending my time with Asuma-sensei's team. Choji is finally getting his Chakra Parusu down and Shikamaru wanted to test his speed by having Ino and me try to race his shadows. It is good fun and quite the workout."
"How are Hinata, Kiba, and Shino doing?" Sakura asked and then growled when Keiko started healing a tender area on her side.
Sasuke held back a chuckled and said, "Kiba is the same as he was in the Academy and Shino is as emotionless as ever. Hinata, however, had changed a lot since the Wave mission."
He nodded. "She has developed a new style of taijutsu that is a bit troublesome to deal with."
"Troublesome?" the pinkette questioned. "You have been spending way too much time with Shikamaru."
He huffed and continued. "It is a combination of the Juken and something else. She said that it was Yuri-sensei who helped her develop it. I've spared against her a few times and it is a pain to deal with."
Sakura nodded slowly, digesting the new information and looked to the bridge that crossed the river a ways off. She saw a person with blonde-hair, guessing that it was Naruto, crossing it and another red-haired person with him. When the figures got closer it was confirmed that it was Naruto and Akahana, the girl Naruto had saved in the mission Sasuke and her missed out on.
She let out a cute sound and jumped over to the small girl. Akahana had gained her new name only the previous day and Sakura loved the little girl. She squicked when the girl stepped out to her and Sakura wrapped her into a hug. Sasuke smirked and walked over, bumped his fist with Naruto, and messed up the child's hair. Both Sakura and Sasuke had heard of the girl's terrible life and each of them an grown attached to her in their own unique ways. Sakura had grown attached out of sympathy and pure maternal instinct while Sasuke had grown attached out of a mutual understanding. The girl had had a worse life than him and he would do anything to make her's easier.
"Oh, you are just so cute, Akahana-chan," Sakura cooed.
Naruto smiled and said, "We just got done with training and came here for the meeting that Kakashi-sensei called for."
"Who cares if you came, Naruto," Sakura said. "All I care about is that you brought my Akahana-chan."
Naruto looked down and Sasuke laughed. He slapped the blonde on the back and said, "Looks like we're both forgotten when Akahana is around."
The Genin talked for a time and stopped when they felt something appear in the forest to the north of the training ground. Naruto immediately took a place a few yards ahead of the group, Sasuke shot to the left a short distance, and Sakura tightened her hug of Akahana and twisted around, a kunai appearing in her hand. She was crouched low to the ground and after she was sure her instincts were right on the direction of the unknown, she slowly move the girl around her so that she was crouched behind her.
Keiko started clapping and praised, "I have never seen a Genin Squad act as swiftly and confidently before in my life." She looked to the forest and said, "You guys can come out now." She looked back to the Genin and muttered, "That was very impressive."
Out of the forest walked Kakashi and Yuri, pride beaming on both of their faces.
"What was that?" Sakura questioned as she stood up. "You could have told us it was you."
"It was a test," Sasuke said and Naruto nodded his agreement.
Sakura thought about it and then hit her head with the palm of her hand. "Was that a test to see if we were ready for the Chunin Exam?"
By then the two Jonin had made it to the group and Yuri chuckled. "Yes, it was and you three passed with flying colors."
Kakashi nodded. "There are some Chunin Squads who wouldn't have responded with that much discipline. Now, I have no doubt that you three are most definitely ready."
The masked man held out three pieces of paper and said, "Fill these out and report to the Academy. That is all I am allowed to say and I am afraid that I cannot be in contact you until the end of the first exam tomorrow. I wish you three luck even though I know none of you need it."
The man waved and disappeared. Sakura squinted slightly and remembered how a puff of smoke usually accompanied the jutsu that her Sensei just used. It would seem that it wasn't just the Genin who were getting stronger.
Yuri folded his arms and said, "I'm afraid the Hokage has asked me to do something that will take me about a week to take care of. The Chunnin Exam will push you and test you in everything that you've learned. There is only two things that you can trust in this test and that is your two teammates. I know that each of you will do great. Good luck."
Keiko shook her head and placed a palm on her right temple.
"We won't see either of them until after the exam?" Sakura questioned.
Keiko nodded. "It is policy that the Jonin-sensei can't be in contact with their team during the initial part of the exam so that none of the other villages can claim that a team cheated. You will see Kakashi after the second part of the exam because there is a month break between the second and third portion of the tests. As for Yuri," she paused, "I'm not sure what the Hokage would need him for but I wouldn't worry about it. Just to be safe, though, I should go." She bowed to the three Genin and said, "You three have nothing to worry about. Do your best and stay alive, that is all I ask of you."
Sakura watched her Sensei vanish in a cloud of smoke and she groaned, "They couldn't have told us that we would be taking the exam sooner?"
-A Testament of Things that Never Will-
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