Shade of the Leaf
The groceries felt heavy in her arms. The load was light, merely a fresh container of milk, a cartoon of eggs, and the tasteless, stringy cheese she liked to pull apart as she read medical scrolls. Just a quick run for food. Maybe tomorrow she would scrounge up the willpower to restock her dried goods and non-perishables. No point in buying more than a days worth of anything that wouldn't last more than a month on its own. Clutching her purchases a little tighter to her chest, she ignored the late afternoon crowd that was flowing around her. Instead, her eyes were locked onto a man whose back was to her, hands jammed into his pockets in an impatient gesture, head cocked to the side as he looked for something, someone.
Biting her lip, she tried to think of the last time she had seen him for more than a brief hello in the hallway to the Hokage's office. Even then, the hello was short, punctured by the flash of his familiar smile before he went in and she went out. Six months? His trial into ANBU had been almost seven months ago, and then there had been that quiet gathering at Lee's... Reaching up with her free hand, she rubbed her aching forehead. Six months was the longest time since their separation as teens that they had been apart on a mission. She spent too much of her time poring over medical scrolls, too many hours in a hospital perfecting her techniques. He was gone on missions so often she had stopped watering his plants and had just moved them into her place. She could count on her hand the number of times they had sparred lately. She needed the space. Needed to find her own footing and to prove to herself that everything was okay now. She thought that might have been why Naruto had joined ANBU.
Adjusting her grip on her bag, ignoring the faintest fluttering in her gut, she moved in the direction of the blond. She had needed the space but six months of it was more than enough, even for her. He turned not five steps into her walk, smile firmly in place. An exasperated frown tugged lightly on her lips. She wondered how long he had been waiting for her to notice him, to make the first move in his direction. The blond would never learn tact, but had started to learn a little patience.
“Sakura-chan!” His smile was bright enough to hurt her eyes.
“Naruto,” she bumped her shoulder with his as he stepped next to her, matching the rhythm of his movements to hers as he joined her in her walk. “I didn’t know you were back in town! All I bought was milk and eggs.”
Up close, he looked dirty, worn around the edges. His eyes still sparkled. Sighing at his smile, she shoved the bags from her hands into his, and the smile in his eyes widened. Sticking out her tongue, she ran her hands through her hair.
“I might have some ramen.”
Peeking at him out of the corner of her eye, she made her decision. She just wondered if he had made his.
“You’ve changed things.”
Sakura turned in surprise as she set the bag on the counter. Frowning, she considered the inside of the apartment. She had rearranged a few things, finally splurging on some color, but she hadn't thought Naruto would notice. She hadn't considered Naruto at all when making the changes. A new potted plant (eventually he was going to take his back), a few extra pillows, a blanket across the back of the couch. Color.
“I had the time.”
He nodded, accepting her explanation. One day she had sat down on her couch and realized how bare her place was compared to say, Ino’s. Sakura wasn’t interested in clutter and window shades that matched her eyes; she was too much a minimalist. Had spent too much of her time obsessing at a single goal to particularly care about the things around her. Some of that intensity had faded, and she was becoming aware of more than just her mission. More than just Sasuke. That was what had taken so much time to adjust to. This new awareness. Brows lowering as she watched Naruto pace the living room, his roaming as if he was looking for something in particular, she finally shrugged and unloaded her purchases. Rising onto tip toe, she found the last of her ramen stash. She really only kept it for Naruto. It never tasted the same when she was by herself.
“Did your mission go well?”
No one had died this time, then. The first time someone had died in Naruto’s squad she had woken up to him sitting on the edge of the bed, watching her sleep. They were both lucky he was as quick as he was or that kunai would have done a lot more damage. He had spent that night and several others on her couch but that first night she had sat on the floor with him until her knees ached. He never stayed long, he was usually gone by the time she crawled out of her shower, and the blanket he had used had been folded perfect and set on the coffee table. She had never pressed him for details, knowing that when he was ready to talk he would. A wry smile curved her mouth. Unlike someone else, who they still had to tie down to get answers from.
Sakura studied Naruto as the water boiled for tea and ramen. His eyes were shadowed again. Something might not have happened on the mission, but something was bothering him. Outside of the death of teammates, there were only a few things that actually got beneath his skin; contrary to what their friends thought, he was capable of keeping things to himself. He just didn't see the need very often. Naruto was too honest to lie to anyone but himself, and he usually gave up on that after a while. Occasionally she still needed to shake him until his brains rattled enough to get his thoughts in order. She forgave him for his occasional stupidity because he never questioned her right to guard his back. Still, of all the topics that he refused to speak about, Sasuke was usually at the top of his list. Turning her back on her friend, she busied her unloading her dishes. She needed to do something with her hands while she figured this out, and if Naruto followed his normal behavior patterns, he would be content to just watch while she thought.
“How is Sasuke?”
Then again, maybe not. She bit the inside of her lip before answering, wondering at the question. “I thought you would have stopped in to say ‘hi’ before you found me.”
Naruto was suspiciously silent.
Hands pausing above a cup, she turned and studied him. “Naruto, are you alright?”
The blond looked away, his face suddenly tired. “I…”
His expression cleared and he offered her another of those smiles. “I need to use your shower.”
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Lowering her brows in fair warning that she wouldn't drop it forever, she nodded. He slipped off the stool. “Towels are in the same place and your change of clothing is clean and in the same drawer.”
Biting her lip, she moved the kettle away from the heat. No Naruto, no need for hot water, and she could live without her cup of tea. Pressing her back against the counter, she studied the place where he had been sitting. Something was obviously on his mind if he had chosen a shower over his precious stomach. He wasn’t operating on standard Naruto patterns. The Naruto who had trained himself into exhaustion for his best friend ate, slept, and only showered when he had the energy to realize how he smelled.
So Naruto was having a hard time with something. It had to be Sasuke. It was always Sasuke; well, when it wasn’t her. Picking up a scrub brush, she went to work on her soaking dishes. Sasuke. He had been home for a year now. Surely that was enough time for those two to find their footing again.
'The same way you found yours.'
Chewing on her lip hard enough to hurt, she attacked her dishes. Naruto had been missing for the last six months. Missions. Sasuke had been grounded to the village and no where else. When would they have had time to work things out? Sasuke was just now getting comfortable enough to look at her in public. The bastard. She sighed. It had only been a year. A year compared to the years spent without them. Things were different. But different was okay.
As much as Sasuke had changed, how different he was from the experience, how difficult it was to get him to sleep or even eat; it had never occurred to her that she might have changed as well. Not until she had stood in his shadow struggling to place where she belonged in his life now. She knew she was stronger, fitter, smarter, and capable. She would never have to watch him walk away again; she had proven it to herself, and to him. She just hadn’t realized how much her perceptions of the world had changed. How much her perception of perfection, her team, Sasuke, and her childhood had barred her ability to see the truth, and in that truth, herself. Herself and more importantly, the truth about the relationships around her, and with Sasuke home the blinders came off.
She had spent two days hiding in her bedroom, working out the new mental paths before Naruto had been released from the hospital. He had shown up, pale and wavering on his feet, demanding ramen and her company. She had gone.
She kicked the dishwasher shut, listening to the sound of the water running, and promised herself she would turn it on later. That had been the last time she had actually had time to see Naruto do something other than sleep, eat, and sleep again. Naruto had been accepting mission after mission, hardly finding time to rest. She had asked Tsunade quietly if it had something to do with the death of Orochimaru, and the older woman had shook her head without offering anything else.
It was almost as if he wanted to be as far away from Konaho and Sasuke as possible for some reason. Reaching upwards, she dragged her hand through her bangs. She didn’t understand what it was that would drive her friend away. Eyes narrowing in thought, she decided that if he wanted to even look at the ramen on her stove, he was going to have to talk to her about his problem. Or else.
“That’s a scary look.”
Lifting her head, she pointed a finger at him, her lips parting to demand answers, but the words froze on her lips. His shirt was old enough that it stretched across his shoulders comfortably. He was barefoot. Sakura had a weakness for men with bare feet and there had always been something strangely appealing about a freshly washed Naruto. He quirked a brow in question, his eyes darkening to midnight as he watched her, and desperately, she reacted.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
“What the hell is your problem Uzumaki?” Okay, not exactly what she had planned on shouting, but it worked and his eyes lightened with surprise. When dealing with her friend’s strange ability for emotional insight, it was best to just wallop him when he wasn’t expecting it.
Blue eyes blinked rapidly. “Huh?”
Pressing one fist on her hip, and not caring that it made her look confrontational, she frowned at him, “Where the hell have you been?”
Those wide eyes were confused, “on missions.”
“Exactly!” Jerking around, she slammed the kettle back onto the stove. “On missions! Not even two weeks after almost getting yourself killed, you decide to take off with your new ANBU status and try to get yourself killed in a completely new fashion.”
She could feel his confusion fade into hesitation. To her surprise, that hesitation shifted into determination. Peeking over her shoulder as the water started to heat again, she considered the line of his jaw. Time to interrupt his thought process.
“I know I told you I was alright with someone else watching your back Naruto, because I wasn’t ready or willing to join ANBU to do it for you, but you do remember that I withheld the right to kick your ass if you did something stupid, right?”
He took a slow breath, and the line of his jaw eased. “I needed to be out doing things, Sakura. It was… hard.”
She nodded. At least he was talking about it. “Sasuke.”
She ignored the way he stiffened a little. “Yes.”
“He is alright, Naruto. There are going to be lingering effects, things won’t ever be the same,” the wistful note in her voice was only partly mocking. “But that’s okay. We’re still team seven.”
She twisted around, and frowned. It was possible that Naruto was involved in a completely different conversation than she was. It had happened before. Best to put his feet squarely on the path she wanted then. Too many conversations had ended badly because of miscommunications.
“You mean you don’t want to be team seven anymore?”
His eyes huge, “Sakura!”
She bit her tongue to keep from smiling. Too easy. “Okay… so that was a bit low. Tell me Naruto… Why haven’t you talked to Sasuke?”
“I… needed time.”
The teakettle hissed and she poured the hot water into the two plastic cups, her brow furred as she tried to think that one through. Stuff? What stuff?
“Sakura….” His tone was careful. “Have you and Sasuke talked… about… your own stuff?”
“You mean my undying affection?” Her back was turned so she missed his reaction, but she heard his intake of breath.
“Sasuke…” she allowed her voice to soften, starring down into the cup of noodles. “Sasuke… I don’t know who changed, Naruto. I just can’t tell. I mean, we both have changed, but I don’t know when it changed.”
There was a long pause. “Changed?’
“It isn’t so much that he isn’t the man that I thought he was. He is, even if it’s buried under scars and lies… but something has changed. I just can’t tell if it’s me or if it’s him!”
“Is that… okay?”
“It would be damn uncomfortable if he was even remotely in love with me.” She muttered in a rush.
Grabbing a pair of chopsticks, she shoved the first cup into his hands. To her surprise, he barely caught it, his face slack with shock. It took a few seconds to pour and stir her cup, and when she turned, his features had the normal wonder and delights from his precious ramen. It was always best to have ramen in front of him when she had something life altering to admit to. She sighed in pleasure when she finally sat down. The silence between them was comfortable as they tiredly ate.
Once she felt the edge of her hunger abate, she started talking again. “I think I’m a horrible person.” It felt good to admit that.
Naruto coughed, his forearm banging painfully against the table as he tried to clear his lungs. She hurried on to explain before he could get the breath to argue with her; because he would have.
“You probably know better than anyone why I chased after him. You chased after him because you promised me… and it was over something that I’m not sure ever existed. I don’t love him.” Her tone was resigned, soft.
“Do you know how long it took me to realize that?” She refused to look at him.
She ignored his second attempt to interrupt. “I spent so many years of my life chasing the damn man so I could drag him back by his hair to realize that life was here. With us, he could have had a life! I finally have him in reach… and nothing. I have nothing. Which I promptly tried to ignore, because that had to be love, right? You don’t just throw away so many years of your life without loving someone.”
His eyes were wide with shock, but there was warmth there as well. She needed that. Taking a shuddering breath, she sighed, lowering her eyes. She had needed to tell him that, but now it was time to point this conversation back where it belonged. She could just drown herself in the shower later.
“Sasuke needs you Naruto. I’m still fumbling for ways to help him. We’re attempting to become friends. You are his friend. He needs you to be here.”
“You’re his friend too, Sakura-chan.”
“Maybe, but I think you’re the better one out of the two of us. You never wanted anything from him besides friendship. I’m still trying to deal with the fact that I love him as my brother and teammate, only.” It was terrifying, thinking that those emotions she had poured into Sasuke might have just been friendship. Perhaps it had been love at one time and she had just burned them into ashes.
Naruto’s tone was soft. “That’s not true.”
“What’s not true?”
Re: Shade of the Leaf
“That I never wanted something from him.”
His smile was slightly pained, but there was such hope in his expression, that she blinked. “It doesn’t matter now. So Sasuke needs me, does he?”
“He won’t admit it.”
“Then I suppose I’ll just have to beat it out of him.”
Laughter burbled in her chest. “He is still on house arrest. He can’t train yet.”
“The day I can’t get around some old fogies to spar with my best friend is the day I kiss the old hag.”
Sakura snorted at that mental image. “You’re one of those old fogies now, Mr. ANBU.”
He stuck his tongue out and went back to his ramen. Sakura went back to her own noodles, her appetite revived. Naruto hadn’t mocked her, hadn’t told her that yes, she had to love Sasuke. Ino certainly had. There was a sort of understanding in his face that warmed her as she finished her meal.
It was good to have him home.
Sakura waved to the blond bouncing impatiently on her heels. Ino was looking impatient and she couldn’t blame her. She was running behind this afternoon.
“Ino! I’m sorry I’m so late; the medical examinations took so much longer than I thought they would.” She apologized as she stepped up next to her friend.
Ino lifted a brow as she turned, her expression amused. “One of these days you are going to have to learn how to tell Tsunade no, you know.”
“I know,” Sakura said sheepishly as the girls walked into their favorite tempura restaurant. “But it’s only for another two weeks and then things will be slowing down a little.” ‘Or at least that’s what I am hoping. I’m going to have to take a mission to get some rest if it doesn’t.’
“I’m surprised they even let you out of that dungeon for lunch with me,” Ino teased.
“It’s not that bad,” Sakura scolded. “It’s just… busy.”
Ino snorted, but said nothing else as the waiter appeared to take their orders. They hurriedly scanned the menu.
“Shikamaru said that Naruto was back in town.”
“He came by the other night,” Sakura agreed, sipping her cold tea with a sigh. It was getting so hot already. This summer was going to be miserable. “I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to him since then. I think he left this morning to go on another mission. I’m not sure.”
“Shikimaru didn’t mention him going on a mission. He did say that Naruto was taking a lighter load of missions.” Ino stared at her. “Do you know anything about that?”
“We talked about some things,” Sakura admitted. “It was mostly me doing the talking, but I was under the impression that he would be slowing down a little. Naruto is just the type that he has to have something to focus all his energy on at one time or he starts to get antsy.”
“I don’t think that’s it,” Ino mused, leaning back with a thoughtful look on her face. “Did you explain to him what was going on with you and Sasuke.”
“Nothing is going on with me and Sasuke,” Sakura pointed out, rolling her eyes.
Sakura frowned at her friend. “I don’t understand what you are trying to say.”
Ino waved her hand. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Sakura shrugged. “Okay. Did Shikimaru say when he thought the council would let Sasuke out of his house arrest?”
Ino gave her a weird look. “I would have thought you would know before Shikimaru with Tsunade.”
Sakura shook her head. “She is doing her best not to compromise her position by giving me information that the council would disapprove of. I’m doing my best to pretend I’m not interested.”
Ino shook her head in amusement. “No, Shikimaru hasn’t said anything, but I haven’t asked either. I can ask him if you want?”
“That’s okay,” Sakura said. “I’m sure Naruto will fish the information out eventually.”
Ino nodded. “So, speaking of Sasuke, now that you’re over him and everything, have you been thinking about dating anyone else?”
Sakura swallowed her tea wrong and ended up coughing. “What?”
“It’s a perfectly natural question, forehead girl,” Ino said in exasperation. “You don’t want Sasuke anymore, so what do you want? I don’t think Lee has given up on you yet…”
Sakura sighed. “No, he hasn’t.”
“I’m sensing a ‘but’ here.”
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sakura was saved from answering immediately with the arrival of the tempura. Ino gave her a knowing look as she took a large bite, but she ignored her friend as she tried to collect her thoughts. Figured that Ino would bring up a subject she hadn’t even thought to consider yet.
“I don’t know,” she said finally. “I mean all my life it’s been Sasuke. I wasn’t even aware that there were possibilities outside of Sasuke until recently. Now that I know there are other possibilities, it’s hard to find someone to match up to the standards he held, you know?”
“Yes. I think so,” Ino agreed. “Well, I have an idea, anyway. Shikimaru and I didn’t exactly have this problem, but I was never as into Sasuke as you were.”
Sakura shrugged. “It isn’t just that. I need someone who can be my equal, Ino, both in strength and mentality and that rather cuts the list in half.”
“It just means you need to introduce yourself to a bunch of ANBU.” Ino corrected with a grin. “Surely someone there is strong enough to deal with you.”
Sakura snorted, and to her relief, the conversation died a little as they both tucked into their meal. The murmur of the crowd around her was relaxing, and the cold tea had woken her up enough to enjoy her meal. A flash of blond out the window had her eyes flicking to the window, but she didn’t see anyone she knew.
‘Naruto is ANBU.’
The thought caught her completely off guard and she breathed deeply, glad that she hadn’t had anything her mouth. Ino gave her a look, and she hurried took a large bite of her tempura.
‘What does that mean? Of course, Naruto is ANBU he wants to be Hokage. He has to be the best.’ She scolded herself. She chewed rapidly, trying to control her confusion with distraction. Where had that thought come from? Surely, her subconscious didn’t think that Naruto of all people was dateable. It was Naruto!
Firmly taping down the thought, she turned back to Ino, determined to distract herself from those thoughts. She didn’t have the patience to even think that thought through right then, and it was ridiculous anyway. Naruto was her friend.
The quiet was mostly deceiving. The rooftop he was currently sprawled on was peaceful even surrounded by agitated chakra of searching ANBU officers. Sasuke didn’t appear to notice them, but that calm façade was as deceitful as his Sexy No Jutsu. It wouldn’t surprise him at all if Sasuke was not only aware of the ANBU, but could probably recite their major abilities and skills. His friend was such a sneaky bastard. A cold fish, but sneaky when he chose to be. The idiots wouldn’t think to look to the top of the Hokage’s tower until after they had already left.
“We probably only have another half hour,” Naruto said lazily, watching the stars twinkle.
Sitting up, rolling muscles that burned a little from the sparring match with Sasuke, he lifted both hands and settled them behind his head comfortably. If only Sakura was here, this moment would be perfect. Well, if Sakura was here and Sasuke relaxed enough to give him more than one word sentences. Sasuke was such a moody little bastard with the emotional depth of a ramen bowel. Sakura… It was better for Sakura to be getting sleep right now, with the way the old hag had been pushing everyone at the hospital.
He really didn’t see what she had seen in their teammate all those years. Sasuke was a friend, his teammate, someone he had fought for and would fight for again, he just couldn’t imagine anyone actually wanting to marry the bastard. The smile on his lips grew as he remembered the conversation he had had with her those nights ago. Sakura wasn’t in love with the emotionally stinted Uchiha, and he was one-step closer to being the Hokage. Life was good.
“You look like an idiot.”
“You’re just jealous.”
The Uchiha grunted but said nothing. Naruto smirked for a moment before eyeing the man next to him. “You’re not interested in her, are you?”
Sakura might say she wasn’t interested in Sasuke, but if Sasuke started to pursue her, then things could get tricky. He didn’t want to lose either of them, and if Sakura chose Sasuke, he would bite his tongue and say nothing. Having lived with hope for the past week, it was a hard question to ask.
“Sakura is my teammate.” Sasuke said firmly.
Naruto frowned at him. “She is my teammate too.”
Sasuke sighed. “She is only my teammate.”
“Oh. Well that’s good, because I’m going to marry her.”
“You are a fool.”
“Maybe,” Naruto agreed his smile widening. “I don’t really care, though. She already trusts me; she knows I’m there for her. It’s just a matter of time before she realizes everything else.”
Sasuke made a noise, but didn’t say anything else and Naruto stood. “We should be heading back. Eventually one of those idiots is going to think to look here.”
A puff of smoke, and the roof was clear.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sakura wearily trudged her way down the street to her one room apartment. She was so damn tired. Training ninja to be field medics was always difficult, but after the war with Sound, it was necessary that they fill the ranks that were empty. Tsunade had decided that every genin team from now on have at least one member who knew the basics of healing jutsu and it was putting a strain on the medics qualified to train. It took a minute to find her keys, and even longer, to get her tired fingers to work correctly to fit the key into the proper slot to open the door. Twisting the key twice, she let herself into the apartment. It was a simple deterrent to keep unwanted civilians out of her home.
Collapsing onto her couch, she pressed her face into the soft fabric with the intent to block out the entire outside world. She wanted to melt into the fabric and pretend that she didn’t have to go in for another double shift in the morning. She wanted to pretend that she had the energy to banish all her aches and pains, and that she wasn’t completely depleted of chakra. The longer she sprawled, the better she felt. Lifting her head slightly, she stared at the cushion under her cheek. When did her cushion start smelling like Naruto again? He had been on what was a light duty compared to his early schedule since their talk in her kitchen. He only came here when he was upset about something. Usually. As far as she knew, he hadn’t been in her apartment for close a month, the night she had fed him ramen.
Her stomach growled, but Sakura ignored it and snuggled back into her couch. She was too tired to deal with dinner tonight. Napping for an hour or so before digging through her pantry for something simple seemed liked the best plan. Tucking her cold feet under another cushion, she closed her eyes.
Voices pulled her from her nap, and she did her best to ignore them. Instincts tugged at her, even as she placed the voices in her kitchen. Opening blurry eyes, she rubbed her face and forced herself to wake up. Pushing herself up, she stared stupidly at the blanket that fell off her shoulders to pool around her lap. Turning slightly, she found that her kitchen had indeed been invaded by her teammates.
“You think that will be enough?” Naruto’s voice was doubtful as he peered over Sasuke’s shoulder. “Sakura eats a lot more than she used to. The hag has been working her hard, and she sometimes skips meals. I bet she’s hungry.”
Still groggy, she frowned at that. “Naruto? Sasuke? Why are you in my kitchen?”
The blond turned with a smile. “We’re cooking dinner.” His expression was innocent and open. Sakura didn’t trust him any further than Ino could throw him.
One eyebrow arched up before she could help herself. Naruto could cook; he had lived his entire life on his own. Sasuke… well, she supposed Orochimaru hadn’t been that good of a cook, and she doubted he would have trusted anyone to cook for him. His reaction to the hospital food that Naruto or Sakura hadn’t brought him had been proof of that. Running her hands through her hair, she shoved the blanket off her lap and walked over to see what they were cooking.
“You’re making Okonomiyaki?” she loved Okonomiyaki with tuna. Her eyes flickered to the little bowls with ingredients and she grinned. Naruto had remembered.
Sasuke gave a curt nod. His eyes left the small pan he was frying the flat dough in. “We ran into Ino.”
Naruto slung an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against his frame eaisly. “Ino?”
What did the blonde woman have to do with anything?
“She said you haven’t been eating well,” Naruto filled in, “so we thought we would come over and cook dinner. The old hag has been taking up too much of your time.” His fingers flexed against her shoulder.
Sakura winced. “She has been attempting to get all the newbies trained and out into the field as quickly as possible without sacraficing their training. The rest of us just have to work overtime.” She poked him in the ribs, silently informing him what she thought of his worry. He winked at her, but she could see a faint glimmer of concern in his eyes. Normally, she would have added some chakra to that poke to prove her point. She was just too tired to do it right now.
“You’re drained,” Nartuo muttered, frowning down at her. Sakura ignored him, scooting out from under his arm to peer around Sasuke at the pile of food. Her mouth watered in appreciation.
“I’m finished.” Sasuke said, moving the hot pan into the sink, defusing the tension she could feel building in Naruto behind her.
The food ended up piled on her coffee table so they could all sprawl out on the floor cushions and relax. Even Sasuke unbent enough to recline. It probably helped that her kitchen blocked them from the view of the windows.
Leaning back with a sigh, her plate piled high, she let her couch support her back. “Aren’t you supposed to be on house arrest?”
Naruto grinned around a mothful, but swallowed before he spoke. “That’s the other reason we came over! To celebrate! The old hag finally let him out of lockdown.” ‘Not that it was really working.’
“Was it even working?”
“No.” Sasuke replied, his expression unconcerned as he took another bite of food.
Sakura sighed, wondering what mischief her team had been getting to without her. She tried to be jealous, but she was too damn tired to work up the proper emotion. “So when are they going to let you start taking missions?”
“I’m restricted to D class for a year,” Sasuke said with a shrug. “After that I’m only allowed C class with supervision until the council decides that I’m trustworthy and not a flight risk.”
“Whose supervision?” Wiggling a little, she tried to find a more comfortable position against the couch.
“ANBU,” Naruto replied as he reached for the last of the food. “They might let me supervise since I proved I can kick his ass."
Sasuke snorted. Naruto ignored him.
“The council is probably going to be as difficult as they can manage without completely undermining the hags authority.” Naruto finished.
“I expected the clans to be unhappy, I guess I just didn’t expect them to be this…” she struggled to find the words.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Naruto muttered something under his breath that had Sakura swatting at him. He dodged her blow before scooting over and picking up her feet, setting them in his lap and digging his knuckles into her tight arches. She sighed in pleasure.
“I do not care what the council thinks.” Sasuke said with a frown. “My personal business isn’t any of their concern.”
“Their going to make it they’re business,” Naruto told him, a frown on his face as he looked up at the ceiling. “Our biggest problem is going to be the Hyuuga clan. They have a lot of internal turmoil right now with the split to support Hinata or Hanabi.”
“That affects me how?”
Naruto snorted and looked at his head. “Don’t be an ass. You know as well as I do how the Hyuuga clan is, and what they will do to remain the most powerful clan. It’s bred into all the little monsters they give birth to and only encouraged as they grow older. Your clan was always a direct threat to that. If they can find any excuse to keep you from restarting your clan, or putting you back on the council, they will.”
Sakura nodded, “Tsunade has made a comment or two that makes me believe the council is split on several issues. Not just with you, Sasuke.”
Sasuke frowned at them. “Who else is in on this little game of yours?”
Sakura threw a pillow at him and frowned at Naruto when he stopped rubbing her feet. His eyes were on Sasuke and she sighed, crossing her arms as she waited for him to start rubbing again.
“It’s not a game, Sasuke.” Naruto said firmly, his shoulders tensing slightly.
The Uchiha crossed his arms. “Then what is this?” The angle of his body-shifting, right hand curling a little in preparation for a fight.
“If you two start wrestling in my living room, I’m throwing you both out by your ears.” Sakura warned.
“I want to be Hokage,” Naruto said slowly, eyes on Sasuke as he slowly relaxed. “In order to do that, I have to have the approval of the council.” His smile was faintly bitter. “They won’t give it to a man who is a container for a demon, you know. No matter how strong I am. They think Sand is insane for allowing Gaara to rule."
Sasuke continued to frown at him.
“In order for me to be become Hokage, I need a council that will vote me in.” Naruto continued, unabashed. “For that to happen, I need allies.” He pinned his best friend with a look. “As long as the Hyuuga clan keeps you off that council seat, that’s one less chance I have. If I’m not Hokage, then we can’t change anything.”
“Before you start getting all huffy,” Sakura warned, moving her foot in another silent attempt to continue the foot massage. “That wasn’t the sole reason we went after you. We want you back. It’s just an added bonus that you come with a council seat.”
Sasuke looked away. “I know.”
Sakura shared a grin with Naruto, that statement was definitely progress. To her delight, Naruto’s shoulders relaxed a little more and he went back to her abused feet. She sighed, letting her head fall back against the couch. If she could just get Sasuke to rub her shoulders while Naruto rubbed her feet, life would be perfect. It would never happen.
“We’re going to have to be careful not to break the rules too much, in the future. If we don’t do anything, Tsunade might be suspicious that we are planning something.” Sakura pointed out.
“Kakashi might help with that.” Naruto said thoughtfully. “He doesn’t particularly care for the council and most of this mess was his idea anyway.”
Sasuke raised a brow but said nothing.
“The clans are worried about your mentality,” Sakura told Sasuke. “You might want to think of ways to prove that you’re mostly sane.”
“Mostly?” Naruto asked with a grin.
“I don’t think there is a single clan that can claim to be completely sane,” Sakura said in disgust.
“Ah,” Naruto whined. “You don’t want to go and rescue little kittens from trees and feed orphans cookies?”
“Go to hell, dead last.”
Sakura, sensing where this was going, sighed and shifted her feet out of Naruto’s lap. As wonderful as this bonding was, she needed a shower and a long, long nights rest. Sakura sighed and stood, moving to pick up the tray they had piled the Okonomiyaki onto and carried it back into the kitchen.
“How long are you two planning on sticking around?”
“Why? You ready to get rid of us that early?” Naruto teased, his blue eyes smiling at her.
“I want to take a shower, and the last time you two were together in one place, you ruined my mothers favorite chair.” She pointed out. “I don’t trust you in closed spaces unsupervized.”
“We were twelve!”
“I’ve been told little boys actually never grow up,” she shot back, whapping him in the back of the head as she walked by.
“That was over cookies!” He returned, reaching up to rub his head. “It isn’t like you can actually make good cookies!”
The cup she threw at him was chakra enhanced.
“Go away Naruto, before Sasuke has to take you the hospital!”
“Let’s go, dead last.” Sasuke agreed, standing in an easy motion.
“Shut up, Bastard!”
Rolling her eyes, she headed to her bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind her. If she was lucky, Sasuke would bully Naruto into cleaning. The Uchiha hated to leave messes behind him, and Naruto knew were all her dishes went. If not, then she would just deal with it in the morning. She was tired.
Sitting on the bed, she pulled her socks off. She couldn’t quite shake the smile that was lingering on her lips. Listening to the faint bickering coming from the living room, she headed into the shower with the knowledge that things were getting better.
Naruto whistled faintly as he stepped into Sasuke’s apartment. It took forever to get into the place, with all the traps and jutsu Sasuke used to protect his privacy.
“That went really well.”
“At least I know what I want,” Naruto shot back. “You’re still floating in limbo.”
The Uchiha looked away with a scowl.
Sasuke didn’t even bother answering that one.
“I guess you’re right. The whole eye thing.”
“Dead last,” his tone was dangerous.
“At least I won’t be going back to sleep on her couch like a fool.”
It was Naruto’s turn to face forward. “She won’t mind.”
“She doesn’t know.”
“It’s not important right now.”
Naruto shrugged, uncaring. He knew Sasuke was just irritated at the way they had cornered them and had shown him a reason to involve himself in life again. He would just take it out on him tomorrow when they went to spar. Right now, he was too happy about the success of their surprise dinner to really care what his friend thought. Sleeping on her couch let him stay close to her, and Sakura wouldn’t mind even if she did know. At least, he was pretty sure she wouldn’t mind. She hadn’t complained yet.
Yawning, he rolled his shoulders. “So, are you in?”
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sasuke cut him a look, but didn’t respond. That didn’t bother him either. He knew his friend needed time to think. Naruto was confidant that he would help them. There had always been bad blood between the Uchiha clan and the council, and the fox remembered rumors that the boy didn’t. Whispered rumors of missions and traps. He didn’t know if there was any truth to those rumors, but he wouldn’t put it past the Hyuuga clan to take advantage of a willing child in the hopes of weakening the Uchiha clan. Still, he doubted even they would have expected Itachi to snap the way he had.
Neiji would be able to find out, and if not Neiji, then Hinata. The Hyuuga clan kept careful records of everything they did in their private library. If there had been a plot to destory the Uchiha clan, they would have recorded it and then hidden it deep. He would have to get Ino to speak to them about it in private. It was too risky if he conversed with either one of them right then. Ino and Hinata were friends, however, and were not supicious.
“You’re sure of your allies?”
“Sakura will get you a list.”
“I’ll speak to her.”
“The counil will try to stop you.”
“They can’t plot for what they don’t know,” Naruto pointed out. “They suspect nothing.”
“If things go wrong?”
Naruto paused, his eyes dancing. “You remember Gaara?”
“I heard of the alliance.”
“Let’s just say there is a standing agreement between me the Kazekage. If something goes wrong, Sand will protect us.”
“They risk the alliance.”
“Leaf will have to prove they are hiding us, which I doubt they will be able to do.” Naruto said with a smug grin. “You’d be surprised how loyal the common folk are to their new Kazekage, and Gaara, unlike the rest of us, has no complusion against killing his council. They know it.”
Sasuke snorted, and planted a hand in his friends back and shoved him out the door.
“I love you too, you cold fish!” Naruto called before turning and headed back to Sakura’s. Maybe he could meet her halfway to the hospital and make sure she had eaten in the morning. Onigiri would probably be the best bet he had to get something in her stomach. Looking up to the dark mountain that held the images of the Hokages he lifted his fingers in a salute. It wouldn’t be long before he, Naruto Uzumaki, would be there as well. Then things would change.
Sakura tossed a little, unable to sleep. Her dreams had been restless. They weren’t exactly nightmares, just uncomfortable blurs of images she knew she recognized but she couldn’t quite recall from where. Sitting up, she rubbed her tired eyes. She wanted to blame her restlessness on the conversation she had with Sasuke and Naruto that night, but she couldn’t. Difficult sleeping was always a sign of her stress levels, and while the conversation tonight hadn’t helped, she could really only blame herself. Ino was right, she had to learn to tell Tsunade no. Well, there was no help for it; the only way she was going to go back to sleep was with a hot glass of herbal tea.
Not bothering to turn on the lights, she moved from her bedroom into her living room. She paused halfway through the space, her eyes starring at the figure sprawled comfortably across her couch. He was shirtless and lying on his stomach so she couldn’t see his face. He must have showered before coming back to her place, because his hair looked like it had been wet when he went to sleep.
What was he doing here? She always kept half an ear open for him when he had been on missions. She had never asked why he felt the need to come to her home when he returned, and he had never volunteered the information. She just hadn’t been aware he was using her couch for more than just the occasional stay. Was something wrong? She debated waking him, but decided against it. Her movements in the kitchen wouldwake him, but at least then she would have a cup of tea to fortify her against whatever conversation he pulled her into instead of her just waking him.
Moving around the couch, she pulled out her teapot, setting it on the stove, and started hunting for the packets of herbal tea she kept for this very reason. Surely, she hadn’t used them all? Scowling in frustration, she continued to dig deeper into her pantry.
The sudden flickering of light almost blinded her.
“The light would help, Sakura-chan.”
Slowly peeking through the fingers she had slapped over her eyes, she narrowed green eyes at him when she realized she wasn’t blind. Scowling at him, she merely grunted before returning to her search.
“What are you looking for?” His chest was warm as it pressed against her back and she crossed her arms, letting some of her weight fall against him.
“Tea packets, I didn’t think I had used them all.”
She was forced to slide forward a little to accommodate him as he peered over her shoulder. He didn’t seem surprised to find her moving through her kitchen, and she cursed herself for not remembering he was ANBU. He had probably been awake for as long as she had been, and if not, the moment she stepped into the living room he would have been aware of her. She should have just turned on the lights and blinded him, saving herself the trouble.
An arm moved into her peripheral vision and one of her beloved packets was dangling between the fingers in front of her face.
“Yes.” Taking the packet and ducking under his arm, she set it on the counter and pulled a mug down. Hesitating, she turned and bit her lip. “If there is another one, you’re welcome to it.”
A flash of teeth and he was turning back to the cabinet and searching again. Sakura found herself starring at the thick muscles of his shoulders and back, the way his skin shifted with each movement, and she couldn’t look away. The sound of the teapot shrilly echoing through the apartment finally gave her enough willpower to turn away from him. She mentally berated herself. It was Naruto!
“How are things going with Sasuke?” Sakura asked as she accepted the second packet and easily set about making the tea.
“Fine. Bastard is still slow.”
She snorted before handing him a mug and moving into the living room to sit on the couch. Flipping out the lights, she let herself adjust before making her way to the couch. Naruto sprawled next to her, warm skin and soft breathing in the darkness.
“Bad dreams?” His tone was cautious and she shook her head, then remembered he couldn’t see it.
“No. I’m just restless I guess.” They couldn’t be bad dreams if you didn’t remember them.
“You’re working yourself too hard.”
She ignored his statement, enjoying the heat of the faintly bitter liquid. He was silent as well, and she was struck by how much he had changed. Naruto of two years ago would have been slurping his tea. She knew he was drinking the brew, the shifting of his arm against her body was very noticeable, but the movements were completely silent. ANBU had been good for him.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His voice was soft and slightly coaxing, and she knew if she could see more the outline of his features, she would see his blue eyes wide with concern. She always wondered how his eyes didn’t glow faintly in the dark; they were so bright during the day. Sighing a little, she put her mug down on the table in front of her.
“It’s just mostly stress, Naruto.” He had been around her enough in the past to know how hard it was for her to sleep when she was under extreme pressure. “Tomorrow is the last day of training for the genin, and things will settle down after that. I just fell behind right now with paper work and treatments of other patients, and there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day.”
An arm slid around her shoulder and she found herself half-sprawled against Naruto, his hand resting comfortably on her hip. Smooth skin and hard muscles moved under her palm as she caught her balance by placing one hand firmly on his stomach, the other grasping his shoulder.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
‘His very nice stomach and shoulder,’ the thought flitted through her brain. She swallowed, trying to ignore exactly how warm and comfortable he was beneath her. The memory of Naruto fresh from the shower, damp and barefoot, collided hard against the feel of him now: warm and male.
‘What are you thinking?’ she berated herself. ‘It’s Naruto!’ Yet, the argument wasn’t nearly as convincing as it had been in the past.
“You know you can come and talk to me when you need, right Sakura?” His voice was surprisingly serious. “If something is bothering you, you shouldn’t hold it in.”
Finding her bearings, she snorted. “Pot calling the kettle black?”
He chuckled, his body vibrating. “It’s different for me. I just beat stuff up. Sometimes you need to talk about it. So I want you to know you can come and talk to me about anything, ‘kay?”
When had Naruto grown up?
“I’ll remember,” she promised.
“Good,” she could almost hear the smile in his voice. “Now, I can’t actually do anything about the stress of your job, but I can help in other ways.”
The next few seconds were very confusing as she found herself sitting on the floor between Naruto’s knees, his strong fingers digging into the stiff muscles of her neck and shoulders. Eyes closing in bliss, she groaned as his knuckles bit into a particularly tense muscle. She had forgotten how good he was at this.
“Damn, Sakura,” he grunted. “You feel like a brick.”
Head lolling forward, she made a noise of agreement. It was too much effort to talk when he was doing those lovely, lovely things with his fingers. She wasn’t sure when she started to dose, but the sudden motion of being lifted startled her awake.
“I can walk.”
“You can work on that skill tomorrow.” He suggested, flicking the covers back with one hand, holding her easily with the other before setting her down. Smiling at her, his face catching the moonlight, his blue eyes danced. “Good night, Sakura-chan.”
She watched him leave with sleepy eyes, wondering why she was fighting a prick of disappointment
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sasuke was ignoring her. She didn't take it personally he was ignoring everyone. The only reason she had even known he was there was because she had overhead a pair of old crones talking about the Uchiha clearing out a garden. As far as Sakura knew, the place he was renting didn't have a garden, and he for sure didn't have a green thumb. The time and effort it would take to make a garden was beyond most ninja, and Sasuke had never had the time or the inclination to try.
So that meant he had finally been given a mission, which should have technically started the one-year sentence. She had been curious to find what poor person had paid for genin level and gotten her stony teammate.
"You didn't mention you were going to start missions today." Her tone was accusing, and he looked up. He didn't seem surprised to see her there, and she frowned down at him.
Sasuke tossed a handful of weeds into the wheelbarrow behind him. "You haven't been around."
Sakura rolled her eyes. With Sasuke, that could mean anything from 'you haven't been in the village' to 'I haven't looked for you recently' to 'you're too bothersome to find.' Thankful that she had worn something comfortable on her day off, she peeled off her sandals, rolled up her pants legs, and hopped the hedge. Those dark eyes narrowed, spearing her into place.
"What are you doing?"
She shot him an amused grin. "This way I can spend time with you Sasuke-kun, and you won't run away!" She had to duck behind her hair to hide her silent laughter at the disgruntled look on his face. Odds were he would get revenge for that one, but it had been too easy.
They worked in silence for several moments, only the occasional grunt as a particularly stubborn weed was pulled from the ground. Somehow it seemed to be cheating to use chakra to do something as simple. Sasuke was probably limited with how much he could use, so it was only fair that she follow the same rules.
"Have you seen Naruto?"
She shot him a look that he seemed to ignore.
"Have you been out here long?"
He gave her a cool look and she admitted to herself that had been a bit of a stupid question. It would take Sasuke a bit longer by himself to clean out the weeds, but not all morning. He had barely cleared anything, so it was reasonable to assume he hadn't been working for more than half an hour.
Still, he didn't have to be such a jerk about it.
"Can you answer any of my questions with more than one word?"
She tossed the handful of weeds at him and he brushed them off his shirt with a faintly narrowed gaze. Sticking her tongue out, she went back to work, watching him out of the corner of her eye.
It was painfully easy to fall into a rhythm with him. He moved so differently from Naruto, and he wasn't quite the extension of herself that Naruto had become on missions, but he was familiar. Now that she was looking for ways to integrate herself with him as a teammate, and only a teammate, it was easy. It was those moments before Orochimaru stole him from them at the Chunnin exams where they had been a team. That moment when he had defended her with all his rage.
"The work load at the hospital has finally settled down," Sakura told him as she worked. "That means I'm back to my 'on one, off two' shift. Will you let me know when you and Naruto plan on sparring?" She didn't have to tell him how much she missed working with them. Even she heard it in her voice.
"Tsunade requires a meeting in the morning." Sasuke said after several moments. "I play genin in the day."
"Before or after dinner?"
"Before, we eat late."
She smiled. "That's fine. I don't usually have time to eat until after shift anyway." Fighting at night was dangerous for a variety of reasons, but she could understand why her teammates practiced then. Her stomach churned with excitement, even as her mind groaned with the beating she was going to take until she grew accustomed to not seeing her sparring partners again.
"Sakura-chan, bastard? What are you doing?" The 'without me!' was clear in his voice.
Sakura pointed at Sasuke. It was time he took the blame for something mundane in the team, after all. "He has a D class mission and didn't say anything."
To Sakura's eternal delight, Naruto apparently didn't know either. He frowned at his friend, hands on his hips. Shaking his head, he bent down to remove his sandals.
Sasuke's look torn between rolling his eyes and just scowling.
"You said you would tell me what your first mission was," Naruto scolded, jumping over the hedge easily.
Sasuke gave him a look. "Pulling weeds."
Naruto pointed at him. "It's still a mission! Kakashi never let us pick weeds!"
Sakura snorted. "He never let you two pull weeds. I had to pull them at least once a week."
Both men gave her blank looks. "When?"
"While you two were chasing lost kittens," Sakura returned with a shrug, reaching down to pull up another handful. "Or something else that was equally ridiculous."
"Hey! Chasing kittens is not ridiculous!" Naruto exclaimed one fist filled with weeds waved in the air so that dirt dropped onto his shirt.
"There were no kittens," Sakura returned with an eye roll, moving several feet away from them to start on a new patch of weeds. "You were just so bad at D class missions, Kakashi didn't want to risk the ones that required you to know the difference between weeds and flowers. You would have been suspicious if Sasuke wasn't sent to find kittens, so he figured the two of you could occupy yourselves."
She peeked glance at them from behind her bangs and bit down on her giggles. Naruto's mouth was open and his eyes were wide, and Sasuke was starring at her with a very disgruntled expression.
"Weeds, Naruto," Sakura scolded, "if we want to be out of here in-time to enjoy lunch before Sasuke has to report again."
Somehow, they managed to not only remove the weeds (Naruto had been designated to pushing the wheelbarrow. He still sucked at D class missions), turn the dirt (Sasuke) and manage to fertilize the remaining plants (Sakura) so that the place looked respectable. Using the water hose to wash her hands, she shook her head at the two men leaning against the wall.
"Any thoughts on lunch?"
Sasuke grunted in what was clearly a negative as she turned the facet off, shaking her hands dry. Ignoring Naruto's pleas for ramen was second nature to her. She wondered how long it would be before Sasuke just learned to ignore his suggestions about food.
"The onigiri stand won't open again for another hour," Sakura said with a sigh, brushing her pink hair out of her face. She squeaked when Naruto grabbed her wrist, dragging her along. Sasuke was firmly anchored by the other hand.
"We're not arguing all afternoon. We'll just head over to Ichiraku's! I can have ramen and he has been experimenting with his menu lately." He shot a disapproving look over his shoulder. "I bet you two never go there unless I drag you."
"And suffer your wrath because we went without you?" Sakura growled, twisting her wrist in an attempt to get him to let go.
Naruto stopped so fast she bounced off him and straight into Sasuke. Growling in warning, she twisted around and swatted Naruto in the head. Her name was repeated, louder this time, and she looked up in time to see Rock Lee skid to a stop in front of her.
"I have come to invite you to lunch!"
Sakura blinked at him and smiled. Before she could speak up, Sasuke had beaten her to the punch.
"We are going to Ichiraku's." There was an almost disapproving note in his tone that everyone else just ignored.
Lee's expression brightened. "Today is the day for ramen! I must join you! We can share the beauty of ramen and Sakura together!"
Naruto clapped Lee on the back. "Of course you are welcome to join us!"
Sakura shook her head as she watched the two most… hyperactive ninja in the village walk in front of them. Lee was telling Naruto about a mission, she really wasn't paying much attention, and she looked up at Sasuke.
"Naruto was right when he said the menu had changed. Ichiraku has some domburi dishes for those of us who really don't care for ramen and somehow get dragged in by Naruto every week."
Half an hour later had them settled into a table eating lunch. Sakura and Sasuke had decided on the beef bowl of domburi, while Lee and Naruto were engaging in a friendly competition on who could eat the most ramen. Sakura didn't even bother to keep tabs on who was ahead. Naruto was a bottomless stomach that was made even deeper by ramen. Poor Lee was going to be running laps all afternoon.
For once, Sakura didn't feel that the lack of conversation between her and Sasuke was stifled. Smiling to herself, she looked up find Naruto watching her with a knowing smile before he went back to his ramen
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sakura grunted as she helped Naruto carry the couch up the stairs. She wondered why Sasuke had chosen a building with such narrow, little stairs. Scowling when her hip crashed into the wall, she shot the Uchiha, who had sat the coffee table down to unlock his door, a glare. She knew he could feel her ire, but he wasn't calling her on it.
Stupid man. Maybe she should just throw the couch at his head.
"Sorry about that, Sakura." Naruto's voice was sheepish.
"You can walk and carry something at the same time, can't you?" Sakura snapped irritably, hefting the couch to follow him into the slightly larger apartment that Sasuke had finally moved into. The past three months of genin work hadn't paid much, hardly anything, but the council had finally given him access to the Uchiha accounts. She wondered if she was the only one to suspect Tsunade bullying everyone into her way of thinking. Either way, it had taken Sasuke two weeks to find a place acceptable and at a rent price he considered decent. The man was such a penny pincher!
The blonde gave her a hard look, which she ignored in favor of accidentally trying to smash his foot with the couch when she dropped her end. Naruto swore and dodged, bumping into the wall, and she moved around the couch to examine the place. Sasuke had apparently already moved most of his boxes into the apartment. All that was left was the furniture and a few breakables. She hoped he had written "Fragile, that means 'No', Naruto" in large, large letters.
The place was surprisingly spacious. The two-bedroom apartment was a little dark. The windows were small and the bedroom with all the boxes was windowless. Still, she supposed she could drop a few hints that lamps or candles were appreciated as housewarming gifts. Maybe Kakashi would even splurge for something other than a cheap plant.
"Man, teme, you need some windows!"
Sasuke snorted. "It's fine."
"There isn't any light."
"Some of us don't need it."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "I'm heading down to start bring up the rest of the pots and pans. You two get the futon. Do not touch anything that says fragile, Naruto!"
Sasuke's doubtful voice followed her. "You know what the word means, right?"
"Of course! Sakura explained it perfectly last time."
Eventually they brought the rest of his stuff up to the apartment. Naruto had rummaged through some boxes and plugged in the a few of the lamps to give them more light once it started to get darker, muttering under his breath about vampires and snakes. Sasuke dropped of box of scrolls on his foot.
She rolled her eyes. "I feel like I'm in the middle of a circus."
Naruto looked doubtful. "I'm not sure Sasuke would fit in."
Sasuke shot him a look. "What does that mean?"
"You don't have a personality." Naruto said matter-of-factly.
Sasuke paused from where he was organizing his bookshelf. "What?"
"You're about as huggable as a water snake," Naruto continued.
"You're both idiots," Sakura snipped from where she was organizing the dishes.
"Hey, Sakura-chan, is something bothering you?"
Sakura sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "No, nothing, never mind. Sasuke, how do you want these plates organized?"
"Where they fit."
Her brow twitched, but she managed to keep from flinging the plate at his head. This time she caught the exchange of looks between the men and applied a little more pressure to her nose before setting out to organize the dishes.
"Hey, Sakura, yousure nothing is bothering you?" Naruto's voice had lost its hesitation.
She sighed. "Have I really been that snappy?"
"Some." Sasuke agreed.
She rubbed her face in earnest. "Sorry. I'm just a little tired."
"You're still not sleeping well?"
"You're not allowed to highjack my couch, Naruto."
"Don't change the subject," Sasuke suggested as he moved a box.
She scowled at him. "I was just out late, that's all."
"With who?" Naruto's voice was surprisingly lacking emotion.
She grumbled. "Some ANBU Ino thought would be a good lay."
A box tumbled to the ground with a loud crashing noise. Spinning around, she stared at Naruto who was rubbing the back of his head sheepishly, avoiding Sasuke's furious glare.
Sasuke frowned at him a little longer before turning to stare at Sakura. "How did it go?"
"Horribly," she growled, moving back to the dishes. "Ino has some really stupid theory about going after someone in ANBU because they can 'keep up'," she really didn't want to mention sex to either of her teammates. She didn't want to think sex with either of her teammates in the same building. "So she keeps trying to pair me up with them."
"Which ones?" Naruto asked. There was too much innocence in that tone.
"Um…. I don't remember all their names." It was a lie. She knew all their names perfectly so she could throw them into Ino's face later as to why she didn't date ANBU, but telling that to either of her teammates was bad. She wasn't stupid enough to give Naruto anything on someone he thought was the cause of any pain for her, and Sasuke… she wasn't sure how Sasuke would react. At the very least, he would tell Naruto whatever she told him.
"What did they do?"
"Nothing that I couldn't handle," Sakura said without looking at them. "I think part of it is probably Ino's fault. I have no idea what she told them." 'But I will…' When she got her hands on Ino's round neck, she was just going to start squeezing.
Naruto made a noise and then there was a curious thumping sound, but by the time she had turned around, Sasuke and Naruto weren't even looking at each other. She hated it when they did that.
"Anyway, I'm sorry I was taking it out on you." She shrugging, shoving her fingers into her bangs in the hopes that she would be able to see. They needed to be trimmed.
"Right," Naruto said with his familiar smile. Turning back to Sasuke, he sighed. "Did you have to have so many boxes?"
"Shut up, Dobe."
"One of you should start thinking about dinner," Sakura suggested as she opened another box. "I don't have the pots and pans unloaded yet, and Sasuke doesn't have any groceries. We are going to need food."
"I'll get it!" Naruto volunteered. "The onigiri stand should be open by now. I can go pick some up to hold us over until we finish unpacking and then we can just go out to eat."
Sakura's mouth watered. "That sounds good."
"I know! I know!" Naruto said with an eye roll. "All you ever eat is fish!"
"You want fruit or fish, Sakura-chan?"
She hesitated and then smiled. "Both, please."
He nodded. "Alright, I'll be back in a few then."
Sakura sighed once the door shut. "I would accuse him of just trying to get out of work, but I'm too hungry to care."
Sasuke shrugged. "At least he will be quick about it."
Sakura nodded in agreement. Naruto loved food, and was always quick to make sure his teammates had their own meals as quickly as possible. She had written it off as a quirk to his living on the streets as a child, but sometimes she wasn't so sure. The last few months had been normal. Her, Naruto, and Sasuke hanging out between missions and work, apartment hunting for Sasuke, and the occasional dinner out; there hadn't been any of those strangely warm looks from her friend. Even stranger, was she hadn't felt that all encompassing relief she had expected. Shaking off those thoughts, she buckled in and set about working her way through the rest of the kitchen.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sakura reached around Sasuke and nabbed another onigiri. The table that Sasuke had hauled up into the apartment was his coffee table, so they were all sprawled out on the floor. It wasn't the most comfortable arrangement (Sasuke didn't have her foresight for pillows), but stuffing their faces with the food made up for it. Naruto had brought home several varieties of fish (tuna for her!) and fruit (including the sour umeboshi) onigiri for them to eat.
"So why the two bedrooms?" Sakura asked before she bit into the rice ball.
Sasuke sighed. "They didn't have three rooms that were acceptable."
Sakura stopped chewing and gave Naruto a confused look. He hurriedly swallowed.
"Hey, I hadn't thought of that. Why are there two rooms?"
Sasuke didn't answer, simply picked up the now empty containers, leaving the one that still held a half dozen onigiri, and disappeared into the kitchen. Sakura frowned and looked at Naruto. He still looked a little confused, but there was a growing look of comprehension on his face.
"For us," he said softly.
Sakura tilted her head. "Huh?"
"How often were you in his other place, Sakura? I mean, did you see those dorms they made him live in with the genin?"
She shook her head. She hadn't actually been in his other place. They always met at Naruto's when they sparred, sometimes crashing on the floor of Naruto's apartment depending on how tired they were and how much healing was required for the evening.
"Oh," she muttered, eyes widening on comprehension.
Naruto nodded, falling onto his back so that his shoulder rested against her thigh. "The bastard is going to have to let us know about his traps." The sound of Sasuke snorting in the kitchen had her grinning.
"At least the ones that aren't in your bedroom!" She called out, reaching over to rub strands of Naruto's hair between her fingers as she thought. He grinned at her and wiggled his head closer and she rolled her eyes, but tangled her fingers a little further into his hair and lightly rubbed his scalp.
Sasuke wanted to give them a bolt-hole. Not that he would say this was what it was, but Naruto had commented, once or twice, how heavily he had guarded his privacy in his last apartment. Compared to that, Naruto's flimsy traps had to be hard on his nerves, especially the nights that all three of them spent sprawled out in various places, too tired from healing/training to move.
Tsunade had told her, in those blurred days when they had first brought Sasuke back, that things would be different. He had changed in ways they couldn't fathom. She wondered if having this place of safety for all three of them was one of those changes, or if he was really always this paranoid. It was so hard to tell what was Itachi's fault, what was Orochimaru's, and what was just Sasuke. It was plausible to think that before his clan was killed that he horded things and kept them safe, but this need to keep his team safe and in his sight when they had moments of weakness had developed when she wasn't looking. Not that she was really going to complain, she had already looked at his hot water heater, and it was twice the size of hers.
"Well," Sakura said as she picked herself up. "We should get back to work. We still have a few hours of unpacking work to do." She nodded towards the bedroom. "Unless you want Naruto in there, Sasuke, you might consider heading in there to work while we finish the kitchen and the living room."
He nodded and disappeared.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sakura collapsed into the ground next to Sasuke. It was a rare afternoon spare and Naruto was off on some ANBU business. Sparring with both of them was a painful joy, sparring with just Sasuke gave her a chance to hone skills she would never think to use against Naruto. She tried not to smirk as she remembered how quickly Sasuke was to move away from her fists. At least he was breathing hard, sweat sliding down his temples. She was completely soaked in a gross, manly sort of way. Sighing she tossed one leg over her knee and starred at her at her foot.
"You were distracted today."
"Normally without Naruto here to keep you entertained my ribs would feel like they were created out of pudding instead of actual bone." She didn't look over at him, but she imagined that once in a past life, he might have rolled his eyes. However, when she neglected to even get a grunt from him, she twisted out onto her stomach and stared at him.
"You are distracted."
He opened his eyes and stared at her. The red-pinwheels were still circling in his eyes, and she blinked as he scanned the area around them.
"Hey, I'm no Naruto, but I like to think my talents of conversation have at least improved past his over the years. I might not listen exactly as well as he does, but my ears do work, Sasuke."
He sighed and flopped onto his back. She felt a smile tug at her mouth. If he was relaxing, that meant they had moved far enough into the training ground that they were alone. For now, at least. Well, when dealing with Sasuke, it was always advisable to cheat like Shikamaru.
"Besides, we're teammates; if you can't talk to me about your problems, who can you? Naruto doesn't count."
Ah, a world of explanation in two words. Propping her head up on her knuckles, she considered him. There were only so many things that council actually had on Sasuke that could bother him, and the sharpest weapon in that arsenal was the status of clan. Hissing low between her teeth, she sat up. Sasuke would know before she did if someone was trying to listen, the paranoid bastard; it was safe to talk.
"So what's the problem Sasuke? Are they giving you a deadline for starting the clan before they disband you or something?"
He stood in a single, smooth motion that she could appreciate from a perspective that was that of a teammate… and a bit of a woman who liked men with good backs. The greatest part of learning that her emotions were no longer so deeply tied up with Sasuke was being able to appreciate his form honestly.
However, now was not the time.
"Sasuke!" Shoving to her feet, she chased him. "Wait a minute, alright?"
To her delight, he stopped. It startled her enough that she almost tripped before she managed to catch herself. He didn't turn towards her, but the fact that he had stopped was clearly a sign that they were friends. Finally.
"I can't help if I don't know the problem." His shoulders were so tight she could see the knots of muscles under his shirt. When he spoke, his voice was flat.
"The council is worried about my lack of an heir."
"You're only twenty."
A jerky, hard shrug.
"So they want you to produce an heir." This was a bit like talking to a Naruto who didn't want to admit something. You just kept guessing until you hit it on the nail. She had gotten very good at guessing.
"They want an heir by the time I am twenty six to secure the line of my clan."
Sakura frowned. Twenty-six was a long, long time for a ninja. She supposed that it allowed the Council to pat themselves on the back and say how generous they were being. Biting her lip, she chewed on that thought. They were giving themselves a failsafe. Did that mean they didn't expect Sasuke to live to twenty-six, or where they hoping he would give them a reason to disband the clan all together before then?
How long had it taken Sasuke to trust them to watch his back? Trust them to stay alive long enough for him to get there? How much longer would it take for him to find a woman he would let in his apartment, much less into his bed who could defend his children from those who wished the Uchiha clan stayed dead?
What could she do about that?
"Does Naruto know?"
Rolling her eyes, she shoved her hands into her pockets and moved to stand next to his shoulders. Staring at the trees, she formulated what exactly she wanted to say.
"What do you think the odds are of Naruto being Hokage in six years?"
She felt the weight of his stare on her face and she tilted her head to look at him. Why did all the men in her life have to be taller than her?
"Six years, Sasuke. That's our deadline to getting Naruto secured as Hokage. What do you think the odds are?"
"He will need the support of three fifths of the council." There was a silent question behind his words. 'Who supports him now?'
"I'll come by tonight." She kept the list of clans quietly supporting Naruto in her head. She didn't dare write them down.
She turned to face him fully, her brow lifted in question.
"Do you think he can do it?"
She was quiet for a moment before answering. "He brought you back. No matter how many times we were told it would never happen, Naruto never stumbled. He never let me stumble, either. I don't think there is anything he can't accomplish. He makes friends were there isn't any, and he has the uncanny ability to win exactly the right people he needs to his side." She paused, attempting to put her thoughts together. "I will never, ever doubt him because he has never doubted me. Even so, this isn't a battlefield and while clan alliances and politics don't mean much to him, they are going to mean everything until he is Hokage." Then things would change.
Sasuke finally nodded. "Eight o'clock."
She opened her mouth to say something else, but he had changed his stance. It was a warning he wouldn't have given Naruto. Groaning mentally, she formed chakra along her hands and waited to see what he would do. It was going to hurt later. A whole lot, if the way his mouth had curled a little at the edges said anything.
But it was worth it.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sakura rubbed her tired eyes as she moved to sit down in front of Tsunade's desk. Even without Orochimaru leading Sound, they were still causing trouble. Unfortunately, a genin team and their jounin had run into a squad. Only one of the genin had made it back, and even after hours of surgery, he hadn't made it. Rubbing palms that even after several washings felt sticky with blood, she watched as the Hokage read her report. The one sitting next to it had to be what was written up from the child's statement. She had been too involved in keeping his heart and lungs working while he gasped out what had happened to actually pay attention to what he was saying. She wasn't even sure who it had been.
"ANBU have been hunting the remains of the Sound Ninja for months now. We have had some success," the words hung between them and Sakura suddenly knew who had had the most success and why he had pushed himself so hard.
"However, we obviously haven't gotten them all. I have already assigned an ANBU squad to see what they could find."
Sakura frowned. Why was Tsunade telling her this?
"I have clearance from the council," the edge of her mouth curled a little, "to allow the Uchiha to be assigned to tracking and destroying what is left of the Sound."
Her heart dropped into her stomach. There had to be things Tsunade wasn't telling her if she was actually allowing Sasuke to leave Konoha, and if she was telling the truth, if the council had agreed to such a move. Lacing her fingers together tightly, she struggled for her composure.
"I would just send out Kakashi and perhaps the Neiji, but both are currently occupied."
Kakashi was hunting the Akatsuki with several Sand operatives and had been for months. Neiji couldn't leave Konoha because of the current split in the Hyuuga clan. It would severely weaken Hinata's position to loose Neiji's support if something happened. It was all a balancing act. Sakura would have given her arm to know what exactly Tsunade had done to get compliance from the Council regarding Sasuke.
"Why," Sakura started, but Tsunade held up her hand.
"Naruto and you will be accompanying him when he leaves in the morning. The council wants someone who is strong enough to bring him back if he tries to bolt, and no matter how much trust I put into Naruto, the Council does not see things the way I do. However, you are my apprentice. They will accept you as a part of this mission to give an accurate and correct report once you return."
Sakura licked dry lips. "Even with Sasuke's and my past? My friendship with Naruto?"
"You are a ninja. You will do your duty." Tsunade said in a hard voice. She reached up and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I considered suggesting someone else, but the three of you still work well together. Throwing in an unfamiliar ninja with Sasuke right now would end up getting someone killed."
Sakura nodded. She knew Tsunade was aware that they had been training together at night, and she also knew Tsunade was aware of how much time she had been spending outside of work with her teammates. Tsunade reached down and picked up a scroll.
"Here is the mission scroll. I expect you and your team to leave at dawn tomorrow."
Sakura took the scroll and bowed, hoping that it wasn't noticeable how tightly she had twisted her fingers together behind her back. Her insides were a mess of excitement (Team 7!) and anticipation (Sound…). She wasn't entirely sure where things would be once they settled out.
By the time she managed to get her thoughts in order, she found herself starring at Naruto's front door. Blinking in surprise, she hadn't remembered walking this far, she bit her bottom lip before rapping on the door and bouncing on her heels as she waited for him to answer. She supposed she could have just walked in, she had the key, but the last time that happened, she had caught him in just a towel. Shivering a little at the memory, wet skin, hard muscles… she forced the thoughts of her mind as the door opened.
"Sakura-chan! I didn't think we were meeting to train for another hour!"
She cleared her throat. "I have a mission tomorrow."
He moved aside to let her in the door. "Really? I thought Tsunade was keeping you close to the hospital for more training."
"I'm going as part of a team, Naruto. That's why we have medic-nin, you know."
"True." He agreed, flopping next to her when she sat on the couch. "Can you talk about it?'
She handed him the scroll. He gave her a confused look before shrugging and unrolling it. She looked away from him, lacing her fingers together and just listening to the sound of his breathing. The moment the assignment sank in he stopped moving.
"Is this right?"
"Straight from Tsunade."
She didn't have to look to see the grin that was splitting Naruto's face. She could feel it. Allowing the corners of her own mouth to lift a little, she tilted her head to look at him. "I thought we could go tell him, together. I mean, I have to head home afterwards to pack. It could take us a while but I thought…"
Her nose was buried in his shoulder and that made it hard to talk. His chin rested on the top of her head as he hugged her, arms squeezing as they savored the realization that they were back together. Years of work had finally paid off. Not exactly in the way that they had wanted, but with her medic-nin training, and once Sasuke was allowed to train for ANBU, their teamwork would be valuable enough they would get missions together. Horrible missions that would ring them out from the inside, but at least they would be rung out together instead of alone.
Wrapping her arms around Naruto's waist, she savored the knowledge that they had won at least one battle against the council.
Re: Shade of the Leaf
Sakura pulled the last of her dirty clothing out of her pack and made a face at the smell. Blood. She supposed she should be used to the smell of it after missions, in the hospital, and the way it faintly permeated where she stored her pack between missions. Shaking out the shirt, she studied the stain in the fabric. Wrinkling her nose, she wiggled a finger through the slice in the material. At least kunai left behind holes that were easier to mend than say, tree branches. Tree branches always left behind ragged tears that took some creativity to disguise. She was pretty sure this was going to be salvageable. It wasn’t like the Sound-nin paid particular attention to what she was wearing, after all. A vicious little smile curved her mouth. No, indeed, they were too busy watching what happened to the object she hit if she missed them. Still, she would be ashamed of herself if she didn’t do a good enough job mending that Sasuke wouldn’t notice.
Not something a lot of would-be ninja thought about. How good they have to be at mending their own uniforms. She was quite certain the prospect would have paused even Naruto. Even if he managed to talk her into doing most of the sewing for him; Sasuke at least had the decency to mend his own clothes. Granted, that could have been from his refusal to admit any sort of weakness. If a ninja had to learn how to sew, then he was going to be good at it.
Studying the fabric in her hands, she chewed on her bottom lip. The mission had been difficult. They still hadn’t worked out a perfect system. There were moments when they flowed with each other, extensions of the other until she knew that if she ducked just so, Naruto’s fist would imbed itself into the jaw of the Sound-nin who attempted to stab her, or that if she rolled forward into the punch, the heat of Sasuke’s jutsu would barely singe her. Then there were times they were so disjointed it made her teeth hurt. Naruto was still too rash, Sasuke too controlling. It was a lot easier to settle fights when you could hit a tree hard enough to splinter it into a thousand toothpicks, but those silences never lasted long.
It was wonderful. It was exhausting. It was everything it hadn’t been as a child in the Chunin exams. It was getting better. Naruto was willing to give now, until Sasuke understood that things didn’t always have to be this way. She was willing to sleep close enough that she could smell the sweat and blood on their skin, if only they would shut up. They pretended she wasn’t overly sensitive and she pretended that they weren’t reverting to teenagers when she wasn’t paying attention. There was no Kakashi to watch them as they slept, and there was a freedom in those woods. A freedom in being Team 7 without having ANBU watching their every move, without struggling to keep her own exhaustion and fear tucked away. Around the camp fire, there was only their ‘now’ and the ‘what ifs’ only crowded in a little.
She was pulled out of her musings at the sound of knuckles rapping against her door. Dropping the tunic, she headed to see who was dropping by. Sasuke had said something about digging through his family scrolls and Naruto was off dealing with some ANBU reports he had apparently fudged the first time... that left only a few people that she could think of off hand who would visit. Certainly it wasn’t Kakashi…
The other woman smiled and held up a small satchel. “I thought you had forgotten.”
Sakura stared at her for a moment before blushing. “Well, yes, I did.”
Tenten’s eyes crinkled at the edges, as if she had spent a lot of time laughing. With Gai and Lee on her team, that could have been from self preservation. Moving to the right, Sakura motioned for her to step in.
“I finished them last week, but you were out hunting Sound.” Tenten nodded towards the bloody clothing on the floor. “Seems like the rumor was right.”
There was a faintly wistful note in her voice, and Sakura could only nod. Team Gai had been grounded months ago. Even though Neji was ANBU, Tenten and Lee were still his preferred partners when he was hunting. Sakura knew that there were missions that had taken the Hyuuga out of the village alone, but it had been some time since she had heard rumors that even one of the members of Team Gai had left the village on a mission. Sakura wondered how much of that was Tsunade giving Neji backup, and how much was Team Gai refusing to leave the back of their white-eyed partner defenseless, no matter how much he could see.
“Yeah,” Sakura said with a smile as she retrieved the clothing and tossed it into the washer to be dealt with later. Maybe some salt would help with the worst of it. “So how many did you get finished?”
“All two dozen,” Tenten assured her as she sat the bundle on the table and unfolded the neat roll of canvas to show off the gleaming kunai. Sakura whistled in appreciation. It had been by accident that she had discovered the weapon masters knack with metal. She had been assigned to emergency duty a few years ago and had dug a kunai out of Lee’s back. As a ninja, she had made a point to get to know all the weapon smiths in the village, but the kunai she had pulled from Lee hadn’t bared any of the marks she was familiar with. It had taken some wheedling, but she had finally gotten it out of Lee, and had been quietly ordering kunai from Tenten since.
“Thanks! I think Sasuke has been snitching them when I’m not looking.” She wrinkled her nose. “Naruto just takes them from Sasuke.”
Tenten smiled again. “Should I make more of your surprise?”
Sakura shook her head. “No, those really aren’t for missions, you know? Besides, it’s nice to know something they don’t occasionally. Although I don’t think it will take them too long to figure things out once I give them their presents.”
Tenten smiled. “It’s easy enough to make four dozen as it is two, it’s just the polishing and refining the edges that takes the time.” She gave another one of her shrugs. “Right now I seem to have more time than I know what to do with.”
“How is that going?”
“Oh, it’s alright. Gai considers it a challenge to keep us busy, even though we technically don’t need a Jounin instructor anymore.” A faint smile curved along her mouth. “It could be worse.”
Sakura tossed Tenten the bag of coin she had set aside from her mission pay. “That should cover what I owe you. I haven’t seen Ino in a few weeks, so we should go out sometime this week.”
Tenten nodded, her smile widening. “I would like that. I have to run some errands over on her side of the village, so I’ll stop in and see if she is going to have time.”
Sakura grinned. “That would be great.”
“I’ll see you later, then.”
“Tell Lee I said hi.”
“I will. Take care!”
Sakura shut the door, and smiled to herself. She just hoped the surprise for her boys, tucked safely under a loose board under her bed, would go over well. The kunai Tenten had made at her request weren’t exactly the sort that Sasuke or Naruto would take into battle. They were just a little to ornate, but they were sharp and their balance true. Open weapons. The kind they could wear in public as decoration at formal events or keep on a wall as an open, but pretty threat.
The sort of thing Sasuke was lacking in his home and if she was getting Sasuke something, it was just as easy to spend the extra coin and get Naruto a similar gift. Sasuke for something to put on his walls. Naruto as something he could use later, when he was Hokage and at some diplomatic meeting. Turning, she gathered the kunai up went to put them away. There was still laundry and mending to do, and sitting around thinking of her boys just wasn’t going to get it done.
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