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.”