The gates to Konoha always looked wonderful after several weeks of being away. Part of her was extremely nervous to hear how things had gone in Water Country – Naruto was not going to be happy – and the rest of her was too thrilled with the idea of hot water and food to care.
"Home sweet home," Naruto murmured as they slowed out of their run into a walk, his grin firmly in place. Lacing his hands behind his head he watched her from the corner of his eyes. "How about I buy you dinner?"
"That's sweet, but I'm more interested in a hot shower than actual food. I swear, I still feel sand in places it shouldn't be. Even after we stopped at the river."
He grinned. "You have to wonder if Gaara is limited to the sand in his gourd or if he can feel everything, because you know that has the possibility…"
She glared down at where he had fallen flat thanks to her fist. "Idiot."
Before he could respond, there was a flicker out of the corner of her eye and Sakura blinked when she turned and found herself starring at Tenten and Hyuuga Neji.
"Hey, what are you two doing here?' Naruto questioned as he picked himself up. He dusted off his pants and grinned. "Baa-chan got you on message duty?"
"Actually, we're here to escort you to Hokage Tower." Tenten said cheerfully. "Hokage-sama has been awaiting your return impatiently."
Sakura felt her stomach drop to her toes. So things had gone badly in Wave Country. Exchanging a look with Naruto, she shrugged and tried to smile. "Then lead the way."
"Yeah, hate to keep Baa-chan waiting."
Sakura sighed. "One day, she's going to punt you clear through the Hokage Monument for your lack of respect."
"I respect her!" Naruto protested.
Sakura snorted. "Right."
"Hey! That's not fair, Sakura-chan! I do too!"
"You'll have to forgive my teammate." Sakura said mildly as she caught Neji watching them with faint exasperation in his eyes. "Sasuke has kicked him in the head one too many times."
"Hey! Has not!"
"You're right," Sakura said cheerfully. "It's all the times I've hit you for stupidity."
Naruto pointed at her, a grin wide on his face. "You know you love me."
Sakura ignored the butterflies and rolled her eyes. "Do not."
"I'll kill you both." Neji warned, "If you do not stop this display of foolishness."
Naruto looked hurt. "You don't love me anymore, Neji-chan?"
The Hyuuga's brow actually twitched. Tenten was clearly fighting laughter, her bottom lip tucked tightly between her teeth, shoulders shaking slightly. Neji turned and faced her, eyes narrowing.
"Yes, Neji-chan?" She replied, her voice vibrating slightly as her eyes danced. "Did you need something?"
Naruto looked delighted. "Tenten! You do know how to tease him! All these years I thought that only Lee ever dared to cross such a stoic example of shinobi!"
Sakura slapped a hand over her eyes. "You know what? Tenten and I will meet you two there. That way we don't get killed."
"I can beat him!" Naruto assured her, grin firmly in place. Neji's eyes were narrowed into slits.
"Do not worry, Sakura-san. We have agreed to deliver Naruto to Hokage-sama in one piece." Neji got the words out through clenched teeth. "That is what we will do."
"Oh, look," Tenten cut in before Naruto could open his mouth. "We're here!"
Sakura reached over and grabbed Naruto by the collar. "Bye Neji-san, Tenten. We'll see you two around."
"Bye Sakura!" Tenten said. Neji turned on his heel and began to march home, Tenten laughingly following.
"Well that was fun," Naruto said cheerfully as he walked down the familiar halls.
Naruto's expression was sly. "You still love me."
She snorted. "You're going to have to work a little harder than that to get me to admit anything."
"With pleasure," he assured. "I never give up."
"I know. I'm rather counting on it." She admitted before tucking into Tsunade's office before she could see his reaction. "Sensei, you wanted to see us?"
"Sakura, Naruto… I'm glad you made it back in one piece."
Naruto looked confused. "It was only a mission to Sand."
Tsunade sighed. "You better sit down, both of you."
"Why? What happened? Was it those assholes from Akatsuki?" Naruto demanded, eyes narrowing with temper. "'Cause I swear…"
"Naruto. Sit. Down."
"And yes, it involved the Akatsuki, but isn't what you think." She sighed and quietly explained. Naruto sat ramrod straight jaw clenched tightly together as she recounted what happened. Sakura reached out and gripped his wrist halfway through Tsunade's story.
When Tsunade finished there was a long silence.
"So what happens now?" Sakura said finally, not willing to process exactly what all this meant outside of the fact that she had not lied to Naruto by default… even if Tsunade lied to her.
"Ibiki is still working on some of the individuals involved. For now, we are operating with a replacement council that we fully expect to be voted in position in a few hours."
This meant something. Sakura could feel it but she was too dumfounded to put all the pieces together. Rubbing her eyes she sighed.
"Yes." Tsunade said quietly. "You two should be careful. There are still one or two instigators that have not been caught and we are unsure as to if they will try to target you in revenge."
"I hope they do." Naruto said coldly. "I have a few things I want to say to them."
"Be as that may, you two will keep your heads low until the rest of this passes over or you will have me to deal with. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes." Sakura said.
"Good. Go home and get some rest. Things are being sorted out. I expect to see one or both of you tomorrow for a verbal report on what occurred in Sand."
Both of them knew a dismissal when they heard one.
"We will," Naruto assured her. "No need to worry, Baa-chan."
He barely managed to avoid the scroll that came flying at his head. Sakura didn't say anything as they walked the halls. Naruto's expression was pensive. He ran his fingers through his hair and Sakura curbed the urge to reach for him. They didn't need that sort of distraction right now. Swallowing, she glanced around the growing dusk.
"I could use a drink."
Naruto continued to stare at the ground and she reached out and poked him in the shoulder. He lifted his eyes to her face and she tugged on his sleeve.
"Wanna go to Sasuke's and see what kind of booze he has?"