A shadow detached itself from the Hokage's tower, moving swiftly through Konaha.
A smaller, quicker shadow quickly followed.
"Don't worry. Pakkun will follow him easily enough."
"They will make their move soon. Tsunade is wrong. They will strike at you first."
"Perhaps. My reputation speaks for itself, so they will be wary. You are still young and stupid."
"Go home. Get some sleep. They can't touch Naruto where he is." Kakashi crinkled his good eye. "In fact, I doubt anyone would want to take Naruto and Gaara at the same time."
"I am not worried about Naruto." Sasuke said.
"Sakura will be fine. She had a nasty right hook, even without chakra."
"Ah, she got you with that one did she?"
The grass had given away to rocky sand hours ago and they were finally reaching the border of Sand. It stretched out in front of her for hours and she wondered once again how anyone could choose to live in this place. Tilting her head, she studied Naruto. There was a curious half-smile playing on his lips, as if something inside him connected to this… landscape. She wondered what he saw that she didn't.
"How is this beautiful?"
He turned, and behind his eyes she thought she some something wild. Then it was gone and she was facing her Naruto again. He smiled.
"I promised I'd show you."
Crossing her arms, she stared at him. The smile grew and he pointed. "We have company."
Turning, Sakura lifted a hand in greeting to the familiar faces. She hadn't seen Kankuro or Temari since they had brought Gaara back and she was pleased to see that they were both doing all right. They would have heard otherwise, but there was never a guarantee that the ninja you met would be around to see again after such an extended period of time. Of course, most of those ninja's didn't have Gaara as a brother, either.
"It's about time you got here. We expected you two days ago." Temari said as she approached.
Sakura and Naruto exchanged confused glances. "Huh?"
"Don't mind her," Kankuro said, fingers fiddling with something at his waste. "She's just bitter it's you two and not that strange haired nin who usually comes instead."
Sakura looked at Naruto.
'Shikamaru' Naruto mouthed, ducking to one side to avoid Temari's punch and wiggling his fingers in a way that was clearly supposed to represent something, she just couldn't figure it out. Rolling her eyes, she bowed.
"Thank you for welcoming us at your borders."
Temari returned the bow. "Sand welcomes you in friendship."
Kankuro bowed as well, a slight smile on his mouth. "Welcome to Sand, Naruto-san, Sakura-san."
There was a casual warmth in Kankuro's voice that hadn't been there at their last meeting and Sakura pulled herself out of her bow curiously, but he had already moved away. Shrugging, she adjusted her pack and went to follow. Tilting her head to order Naruto into moving, she was startled at the narrow eyed, faintly hostile expression on his face.
He jerked around, and offered her a careless smile. "Come on, Sakura-chan, I bet Gaara hasn't had ramen in weeks."
Temari turned, her eyes dancing. "You didn't really bring that stuff did you?"
Naruto's smile was bright. "Gaara said he liked it." He pointed a finger at Sakura. "Aren't you always telling me to make good diplomatic relations?"
Sakura opened her mouth and then closed it. "You know what Naruto? I just don't want to know." Widening her stride, she caught up with Kankuro. "I'll be over here. Having an adult conversation."
Kankuro kept walking, but the corner of his mouth twitched. "What makes you think my conversation is adult?"
Sakura leaned forward and offered him her best Sasuke smile. "Is that a dare?"
Kankuro's eyes slid over and his mouth opened but before he could open it a small pebble bounced off his head. Twisting around, both ninja looked at Temari and Naruto who were watching them with expressions layered in innocence.
Kankuro gave a long suffering sound. "So, Sakura-san, what would you like to know."
Her smile was sharp. "Why, Kankuro-kun, I though you would never ask!"
Naruto folded his hands behind his head and cut Temari a sly look. "Shikamaru huh?"
Temari's lips twitched. "You keep that up, and I'll be the first to tell my brother that she is single."
Naruto's teeth clicked together audibly. Reaching over, Temari patted him on the head.