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Old 01-12-2009, 10:56 AM   #16
thegodfather2450
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter8:
The world had disappeared into a rush of white and fire. Even now, hidden behind the safety of her eyelids she wasn't ready to leave, she could still feel that rush of heat and water. Voice penetrated her foggy mind, familiar, angry voices. Struggling her way to the surface, she tried to decide if the anger was directed at her. For a single moment, she could recognize a voice saying her name over and over, but then it was too difficult to pull completely out of that darkness and she was sinking again.

The next time she woke everything hurt. Every bone in her body felt like it was burning and even the ends of her hair smarted. Blinking slowly, she found herself staring at a fire that was warmly crackling against an evening chill. It took a while to expand her awareness from the fire.

Shifting a little she bit back a moan at the sharp pain that movement brought. She must have a made some noise, because a moment later she was starring into a pair of dark eyes. Sasuke looked exhausted, a large bruise forming on the side of his face, but he was alive. Swallowing down the relief that brought, she closed her eyes again.

"Sakura."

She opened her eyes again at the tone of his voice. There was an expression in his eyes she couldn't read very deeply into. She tried to say his name in return but her throat was so dry the words cracked before they were formed. He reached over and lifted her head (that hurt) and settled a canteen against her lips. Exhausted by the move, she panted a little, trying to convince herself that her ribs were not imbedding themselves in her lungs.

"That was very stupid of you."

She processed his words, but they didn't bring any images with them. It was hard to get upset when you couldn't remember why you felt like you had been buried under a rockslide and then dragged through a ravine by a raging river.

"Blowing yourself up as a warning is not acceptable, Sakura."

That did bring up memories. She had been on scouting duty; carefully searching the area for the Sound Ninja they had been trailing. There hadn't been any rumors of Akatsuki members in the area, there had been no reason to expect her to run into trouble that she couldn't handle. Halfway across a small ravine, she had seen him. Kisame Hoshigaki. He had worked alone since the death of Itachi, but that didn't mean he hadn't picked up a partner along the way. He was between her and her team, and there was no way to warn them that there might be more Akatsuki in the area. Heart in her throat, she had done the only thing she could think of that would have brought her help and warned them of the danger they were in.

She had blown up the wall of the ravine she was standing on top of. The faint memory of thick, rushing water must have been from Kisame's water attacks. She had known that if she survived the explosion, if Naruto and Sasuke survived the fight, that they would find her.

She didn't know why Sasuke was so testy.

Then suddenly there was another presence next to her. Sighing internally, she lifted her lashes to find herself starring up at a furious Naruto. His eyes were narrowed and she didn't think it was a trick of the fire that they were faintly red. She had the vague impression that if she wasn't hurting so badly he would have been shaking her.

Even knowing he was so mad at her didn't quell the fact that she was so relieved that he was alive. That they had both survived.

"What were you thinking?" Naruto growled down at her. Sakura closed her eyes. It was easier to deal with these things when she wasn't forced to look at such grim disapproval.

"Warning you." She whispered. "It worked."

The sound of cloth being strained to the breaking point had her sighing. "You're alive, Naruto."

"You almost weren't." Sasuke's voice broke into the slowly growing haze. She blinked her eyes open again. "If half-burying yourself wasn't good enough, Kisame did his best to drown you."

"Knew you would come," She said simply. Reaching over with her right hand, she managed to find Naruto's clenched fist and settled her fingers over the digits. As she started to drift off again, she felt a hand cover hers.

When she woke up for the third time, she smelled Naruto and rich earth. It took a few moments to realize he was carrying her. She was settled across his back as he moved as smoothly as he was able, his body moving in a way that managed to keep her from being jarred too badly. Curling her fingers into his shirt, she let him know she was somewhat awake. He didn't pause between leaps, but he did tighten his grip to silently inform her he wasn't putting her down.

Safe with the realization that he wouldn't drop her, she turned her attention to all the internal bruising and mostly healed breaks. She would have to ask them who had healed her, because she knew she hadn't been in a position to heal herself. She lost track of time as she carefully set about healing the worst of what was left of her injuries. She mended the rest of her fractures, eased the pressure on her lungs from her ribs, and had managed to deal with the worst of the bruising before she heard Naruto softly calling her name.

Blinking her eyes opening, she shifted to let him know she was aware.

"We're stopping for a bit." He told her, lowering her to the ground so that her feet could touch. She slipped off his back, but before her muscles could decide if they could hold her, Sasuke had settled an arm around her waist and held her up until she was steady.

"Thank you." She whispered against his side, moving away once her feet recognized what to do with sturdy ground. Blinking a little, she frowned. "Where are we?"

"About a day from Konoha," Naruto said as he stared digging through one of the packs. "We're heading back to report to Tsunade."

"Our mission?"

"Kakashi had already dealt with the Sound ninja when we ran into the Akatsuki." Sasuke supplied as squatted next to her to start putting together a fire.

"Kakashi?" She didn't remember seeing Kakashi at all. She blinked in surprise when Naruto took a very deep, steadying breath before turning to face her.

"Kakashi was hunting Kisame when you decided to blow up a chunk of the ravine. By the time we arrived, he was already engaged." His jaw worked for a moment before he continued. "Sasuke went after you while I joined the fight."

Sakura nodded. Naruto was the best one to deal with Kisame since he had the most chakra. "Kisame?"

"Escaped." Sasuke said coolly. "However, I do believe he will be carrying new scars the next time we meet."

She just nodded before picking a patch of grass and settling down. Sitting burned a little in her muscles, but it was easier now that her ribs where mended and her chest muscles were no longer so bruised. "Who healed me?"

"Kakashi had a Sand medic-nin with him," Naruto's voice was hard. That explained why her bones hadn't finished being healed. "He did what he could."

"He kept you alive." Sasuke agreed.

Sakura sighed. She probably should have tried to think of another way to warn them, but when faced with a monster of a man whose sword ate chakra, when you were facing the very people who knew how to kill demon containers, you had to move quickly. Naruto and Sasuke had been far enough away she hadn't been able to warn them with her voice and if she had tried, she wasn't sure she would have been able to stay alive long enough for them to find her. She could fight Sound-nin, she could deal with horrendous injuries, and she could even face Orochimaru with determination. She could even deal with Akatsuki members, some just required help; Kisame was one of those.

She was going to have to get Tsunade to help her perfect her summoning technique for the next time she was in one of these situations. She really didn't think Naruto and Sasuke would ever forgive her if she blew herself up twice.

However, she wasn't going to apologize for doing her duty. If the grim set to Naruto and Sasuke's mouths said anything, they knew it. They also knew that she had acted in the only means necessary to her and they weren't happy.

"Kakashi told us we could look at his library of scrolls while he was gone." Naruto finally said.

She looked up in surprise. "For what?"

"Genjutsu," Sasuke said.

She winced. She had really only seen them this irritated once (at the same time) since they had started taking A-rank missions together. The very first time they had gone after Sound-nin, but that was something she didn't like to rehash.

"Genjutsu would be a good idea," Sakura agreed.

Naruto was suddenly very, very close. "You aren't going to do that again, Sakura."

She blinked at the hard look in those blue eyes and the faintest flick of red around his pupil. She shook her head. "I will do what I have to do protect you and Sasuke, Naruto."

His eyes narrowed and she reached up and covered his mouth with her hand.

"However, in most situations, I won't have to. Kisame wasn't some Sound-nin, and his skills ran directly to my weaknesses. Taking him on alone would have been suicide. I did what I had to do to warn you and Sasuke that there was trouble. I didn't know if there were more Akatsuki members with him. They still want the fox, Naruto. It wasn't a situation were I could sit and wait for an opening to warn you." 'Or allow myself to be caught as bait for you to come rescue.'

His eyes were still narrowed, but he had relaxed. Pulling away, he reached up and caught her wrist. Eyes locked with hers, he deliberately brought her hand back to his mouth, and kissing the center of her palm for several long heartbeats before letting her go.

"I'll go catch lunch."

Then he was gone.

Leaving her with wide eyes, her fingers curled around the sensation of warm lips and hot breath, the wild look in blue eyes.
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The frog in the well drifts into the great ocean.
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:00 AM   #17
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Re: Shade of the Leaf


chapter9:

Sakura shivered. Even wrapped in Naruto's extra shirt, the rapidly dropping temperature was cold enough she felt miserable. The storm that was rolling in was moving fast. They were on their way back from a mission, still too far from Konoha to make it back before it broke loose. This time of the year was known for its quick storms, but thankfully, not the funnels that would tear up large tracks of land. Still, the dark line said the storm was going to be violent. They had been hunting actively for shelter since Sasuke had seen the approaching line of clouds.

"This is all you found?" Sakura questioned her voice doubtful; in front of her was a tree as wide as her arms outstretched. It was entirely hollow, and might fit all three of them if they squished together. Really, really, really close together.

"Fuck," Naruto muttered.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "It's all we have."

The first fat, cold raindrop hit her cheek and she jumped. "We better hurry."

Things had been so much easier when they were genin. Sasuke didn't have those damn long legs that got in the way of everything and cramped so damn easily, and Naruto wasn't so broad in the shoulders. It was impossible for Sakura to squish between them as they did as Genin, and so she ended up sprawled over both their laps, shivering as she watched the thick curtain of gray rain hit the dirt just inches from her fingertips. Sasuke had known a jutsu that acted as a thin barrier between them and the rain, keeping both him and Naruto from being soaked from the thighs down.

However, the situation couldn't be comfortable for either man. She was pressing against Naruto in a… well, she was pressing rather firmly against Naruto. If she shifted, her knees would knock Sasuke in the chin. Sasuke's legs barely fit inside the trunk, and where rather oddly tangled with Naruto's.

"It's a good thing you're both straight."

Sasuke snorted and Naruto laughed, the sound rumbling against his shoulder, "dirty thoughts, Sakura-chan?"

She drove her elbow into his gut and he wheezed, head resting against her shoulder. "Just making an observation, idiot."

Naruto rubbed his chest. "I thought we had a no violence rule while in small, confined areas."

Sasuke shook his head. "You ruined that in the cave over the last piece of fish."

"If you both remember, I ended that one." Sakura said calmly. "Don't make me do it again."

Her elbow drove back again at what suspiciously sounded like Naruto calling her mommy. Ignoring the way he gasped for air, she held out her hand to Sasuke. "Let me see your arm."

He twitched, muscles bunching along his shoulders, and she narrowed her eyes. "My feet are not exactly in the safest place for you're um, personal safety, Sasuke. Arm."

Silently he handed over the damaged appendage. Running her fingers along the wound she had closed the night before, Sakura nodded in satisfaction before letting just enough Chakra sink into his pathways to finish the healing. Away from Konaha she had to be careful with how much chakra she used when healing the team, especially if there was a chance she couldn't rest or eat as she needed to regain what she had used. Not that she minded using her chakra to heal them, but Sasuke and Naruto were particularly testy about it. Once she was satisfied that the injury was healed, she let her fingers drop and nodded at him.

He nodded in thanks and they were quiet as they watched the storm. However, watching the storm was only fascinating for so long. Sighing heavily, she turned her head against Naruto's throat and watched Sasuke. He looked tired; she wondered how much sleep he was actually getting when they weren't on missions. She had noticed that he seemed to sleep heavy when it wasn't his watch. It spoke for how much he trusted them to watch his back that he slept better when on missions than when at home. She couldn't blame him. Sometimes she woke up at night and reached for bodies that weren't there.

"Hey, Sasuke-kun," the childhood name rolled from her tongue before she could catch it. Biting her lip at the way he opened on eye, she sighed. "Are you sleeping at all when we aren't on missions?"

"Some."

She jabbed him a little with her heel. "You're back to one word sentences."

He closed his eyes, ignoring her.

Huffing, she wiggled a little to find better position against Naruto.

"Sakura," Naruto's voice was a bit rough. "I don't mind much, but when a woman wiggles around on a man's lap, he has a reaction."

She froze. "Right."

Sasuke sighed. "Idiot."

"What?"

The sound of ice hitting the tree and the ground had her leaning a little closer against Naruto. She wasn't scared of storms, per se, but if they ended up in the path of one of those air funnels…

"Don't worry," Naruto told her, hand running up and down her arm. "If one of those funnel things sets down, we'll know and I'll just call a toad to get us the hell away."

Sakura relaxed. She hadn't thought about that. It would be a wet, wild, probably dangerous ride and one she hoped to avoid, but the knowledge that there was an escape plan was comforting in the way only giant frogs were. She frowned when she realized her foot was falling asleep.

"Getting out of this tree trunk is going to be difficult," she muttered.

"How come?" Naruto asked.

"Unless you know a medical jutsu that I don't that keeps your legs from falling asleep, were all going to have crawl out of here." She pointed out.

She felt him move with his grimace. "I hadn't thought of that."

"At least we're not wet." Sasuke pointed out.

Fingering the sleeves that currently flopped over her hands, she mentally agreed with Sasuke. Being wet was only worse when you were wet and cold. The storm was still dropping temperatures. Thankfully, Naruto and Sasuke were plenty warm.

"How long do you think they are going to let us hunt Sound-nin?" Sakura asked quietly, curling her fingers into a fist inside her sleeves. For a moment she thought that Naruto and Sasuke had both fallen asleep, and then Naruto sighed.

"For as long as they can get away with it, I suppose."

She nodded.

"Chasing Sound-nin serves two purposes for the council." Sasuke said mildly. "It gives us a chance to be killed, and it gets Naruto out of their hair."

Sakura frowned. "Yes, but its also blatantly flaunty Naruto in the face of the Akatsuki. There have to be rumors of us fighting Sound-nin by now."

Naruto's body moved under her as he shrugged. "Maybe they just can't win at everything."

"Then why send me?" Sakura questioned, curious to see what they had reasoned behind her back.

"Liability." Sasuke said flatly. "They know how Naruto responds to you being danger."

Naruto snorted. "Oh please. Kakashi probably had to report the fight with Kisame, which means they know you're really just a great big mother-hen, bastard."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed and Sakura spoke quickly. This was not the time to be fighting.

"I can take care of myself."

"We know," Naruto said. He shifted, and she could almost feel the stare he was directing at her profile. "Although I wouldn't think blowing yourself up is a good way to take care of yourself, Sakura-chan."

She thought about elbowing him, and decided against it. "Sasuke?"

"The council considers you a liability," he said finally. "Even though you are the Hokage's apprentice. Which is a mistake. Especially if they wish to maintain the illusion of power."

"You wanna explain that one, teme?"

"Rumors suggest that Hinata is slowly winning the battle inside the Hyuuga compound. The Branch house supports her mostly over her sister. Hanabi merely has the support of some of the older members of the clan, but her temperament is such that it is unlikely she will maintain that support. I suspect there will be a subtle shifting of power inside the council in the future." Sasuke mused, a small smile quirking the edges of his mouth.

Sakura considered that. Maybe it was time she started keeping her ears open again. Tsunade had never really bothered censoring her tongue around her or Shizune. She knew the sector supporting Tsunade was likely to be a wellspring of information, especially when it came to how the Council was dealing with the Uchiha and the Kyuubi vessel. It was a matter of waiting everyone out, now. She and Sasuke had spent the last three months carefully feeding Shikamaru and Neiji the information they needed to gain support. Everything was set to come out as they wanted (with the few expections, the bumps that were inevitable) if all three of them could just stay alive long enough to see their plans through to the end.

"The Jounin exams are coming up." Sakura said softly, deliberately changing the subject. It was something she had wanted to discuss with them anyway.

Naruto ran a hand down her arm. "Are you thinking about taking them?"

Sakura sighed. "Tsunade and I have been talking. She thinks it will be… helpful in the future. If I can summon Katsuyu by the time enrollment for the trials begins, then I plan on going for it."

Naruto frowned. "Summoning takes a lot of chakra."

Sakura nodded. "Yes, usually."

Sasuke cracked an eye open. "Sakura…"



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The frog in the well drifts into the great ocean.
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:01 AM   #18
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Re: Shade of the Leaf



chapter10:
"Tsunade and I are working on a way around it." She bit her lip and widened her eyes. "I'll tell you about it if it works."

"Jounin exams are tough," Naruto mused, breaking their starring match. He was clearly satisified by her answer. "They really go out of the way to test your skills."

"Her genjutsu skills will be an assest." Sasuke reminded them, closing his eyes again. "I can only think of a handful of Jounin they would set against her who have the ability to see through genjutsu and deal with her strength."

Naruto nodded. "Yeah. True. Should be interesting. Good thing you learned the genjutsu."

Sakura snorted. "Like I had any choice."

Sasuke shrugged, unapologetic. The few days she had the chakra, Sasuke had spent drilling her in Genjutus, usually against Naruto. She wasn't a master, but once Tsunade had realized what she was doing, she had slipped her a few scrolls to read as well. It was a matter of control and instead of using her chakra for strength, she just had to twist it in a different way. Sort of like twisting a slime covered ball of pudding into shape and holding it. Her illusions weren't large, but when she managed to pull one off, they were solid. She was getting very good at seeing through them.
"We should get some rest." Sasuke suggested, shutting his eyes. "I refuse to carry either of you back because you're stupid enough to get stabbed."

"I could have healed him!"

"I was covering your ass!"

"Shut up."

"I'll keep watch." Naruto offered with a growl. "If that's acceptable, Sasuke?"

It took a few minutes for the rearranging of limbs so that she and Sasuke were both comfortable in sleep. Her cheek was resting against Naruto's collarbones now, and Sasuke's legs were stretched out a little further thanks to Naruto shifting his shoulders around. The storm had picked up until it was almost deafening, but with Naruto under her fingertips, and Sasuke trying to pretend her knee wasn't lodged into his side, she was warm and safe.

Naruto stared at the clouds that were taking something of a shape above him. Winter rains were going to be moving in soon. That one could have been a pineapple, if Chouji had already taken a chunk out of it with his teeth. That one looked like a bird with one wing, and that one looked like a toad. Sort of. If he crossed his eyes a little.

"I hope your face gets stuck like that." Sasuke chided mildly.

"You're just jealous of my face." Naruto returned, closing his eyes.

"Hn."

He could ignore silly Sasuke comments today. He was in a good mood. If the day was to get any better, it would have to involve Sakura. Possibly in that nurse's uniform she detested.

"You're not giving her any reasons to notice you."

That had him sitting up. Blinking at Sasuke, he frowned at his friend. "Huh?"

Sasuke gave him an irritated glance. "Sakura. You are not giving her any reason to notice you as more than a friend."

"Yes I am."

"You move like a snail."

Naruto frowned. "You don't have any room to be talking, teme."

Sasuke reached over and clipped him in the back of the skull. "Pay attention. I'm not chasing Sakura. You are. Do something about it soon. I'm tired of watching you go nowhere."

Naruto frowned, crossing his arms behind his head. Maybe he was right. He liked the fact that Sakura was so comfortable with him, he liked that she didn't mind when he had an arm around her shoulders, and that she seemed to enjoy having him in her home. It was a nice home. Maybe Sasuke was right. He did need to do something that would get her mind off friendship and onto something else.

"Don't screw it up."

Naruto ignored that comment. He never screwed up. Well, when it was important. Most of the time when it was important. Crap.

"Hey Sasuke, you got any ideas?"

Sasuke stood up and walked away.

Naruto sighed. Well, he supposed he was in this one on his own. Flopping onto his back, arms still behind his head, he watched the clouds and thought.
__________________

Failures must be seen as amusements,they are trials which hone your skills.
The frog in the well drifts into the great ocean.
Feel pain,conteplate pain,accept pain and know pain.
Proud member of The Three Legandary Sannin Fanclub.
Proud member of the Jiraiya Fanclub.
proud to be a member of uzumaki narutu.
proud to be member of the yondaime fc.
proud to be a kage member fc.
proud to be a sage naruto member.





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Old 01-12-2009, 11:07 AM   #19
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter11:
"Sakura," Shizune's soft voice broke into her exhausted daze. "You should go home."

She lifted her eyes and blinked at the concerned medic nin. Shizune wasn't scheduled to come on duty for another three hours. Scrubbing at dry eyes, she looked at the clock. Was it really that late?

"Tsunade said that you have done enough and the next shift is here. They'll take over for now, Sakura." Hands were turning her and pointing her towards the door. Her body went through the automatic reactions. Wash the blood off her hands. Change out of her uniform, put it in her bag, and head back to her dark apartment in the hopes of getting some sleep. Halfway home, she stopped. As much as she wanted to sleep, she wanted to spend some time with someone else. Going home to a cold apartment was suddenly a task that was just too much for her emotionally drained self.

Her feet turned to a familiar direction, but she stopped herself. Her parents had stopped being able to help her since her genin days. While they might sympathize with what she had to be going through at the hospital, they wouldn't understand. They couldn't understand why civilians in her care were so much harder than healing shinobi. The idea that shinobi could take care of themselves, that they had been hurt for a purpose was one thing. A civilian being hurt, little civilian children being burned was something completely different. She had pushed herself into exhaustion dealing with the injuries that had come in after a civilian apartment complex had caught fire and she was feeling the drain.

Curling her fingers around her key ring, she headed a different direction. The door she was shuffling toward wasn't as nice as her parent's small, perfect home. It was part of a slightly run down complex, but it was strangely clean and neat. Even if the blue paint on the door was chipped.

The key turned smoothly in the lock. She knew the sound of the lock snicking out of place would wake him, just as the fact that she hadn't set off his taps would tell him who exactly was walking into his apartment. Sasuke would be expected to dodge at least one trap, just for practice sake. Shutting the door behind her, she leaned against it, breathing in deeply to steady herself as she waited for Naruto to appear. She might have taken some liberty with the key he had given her with that half-smile, but she would never enter further without his permission.

A light kicked on, and Naruto stepped out of his bedroom, his hand rubbing his eyes. They blinked at her for a moment before he shook his head. "Hey, Sakura-chan, something wrong?"

"Can I stay here?"

She had to give Naruto credit. When his friends needed him, he was terribly efficient. Half an hour after stumbling into his apartment she was wearing an oversized shirt and a pair of old shorts, a cup of tea firmly in hand that while faintly bitter, made up for it because it was warm. He was sitting next to her, waiting with a patience that most would never believe he was capable of.

"There was a fire tonight." She said quietly, finding enough energy to speak only after half a cup of tea. "They're looking into what started it, but it was in one of the civilian areas."

Naruto's arm slid across her shoulder. She could have stopped talking there; she knew he understood instinctively where the root of her distress was coming from. She savored that moment before continuing, needing to talk about it now.

"Most of the individuals were small children… most of it was smoke inhalation but we had a few that were severely burned." Her fists clenched around her teacup. "Dammit, I can't stop thinking that if any of them had had even the most basic of training then none of this would have happened. They panicked and they got hurt."

Fingers tugged the teacup out of her hands. She locked her fingers together, her knuckles turning white with the strain. Warm hands pulled her into his lap and his arms settled around her stiff form.

"It's alright, Sakura," he soothed. "I know you did your best."

Biting her lip, she reached up to scrub her face with one hand. "I'm sorry to unload on you."

His breath stirred her hair. "I told you to come to me if you needed to talk to someone, remember?"

She twisted around and pressed her nose against his neck. He didn't seem to mind, settling one arm around her hip. The other hand tangled at the base of her skull, threading through her hair and massaging her scalp. She took several, even breaths, and centered herself. Breaking down now wouldn't do any good, and she had promised a long time ago that she would never cry about things she couldn't change. She was just tired.

"You should be in bed," he told her quietly. "Come on, I'll tuck you in."

She tightened her grip and swallowed. "Will you stay too?"

The fingers tangled in her hair twisted, just a touch. "Sakura?"

"I just…" 'Don't want to be alone yet.' She sighed. "Never mind, I'll take the couch. I'm shorter." She went to untangle herself from around him. He made a noise in his throat, standing smoothly, shifting his grip so that his arm rested just below the curve of her bottom. Squeaking, she hooked a leg around him and held on.

"Come on," he said, hefting her a little. "Do you want to shower?"

She shook her head. "No. I washed up a little at the hospital. Unless you think I smell like blood…"

His lips curved against her ear. "A little, but it's alright. I don't think I have any clean towels anyway. I'll put a load in the wash and you can shower in the morning."

"'Kay," she agreed, relief that he was going to let her maintain her connection a little longer. He was true to his word; tucking her into his bed with a few teasing remarks and then he disappeared. The hum of water pipes had her eyes closing. She was half-asleep by the time he returned and settled next to her smoothly. It was enough that he was close enough to touch, the sound of his breathing relaxing the tight muscles in her back and stomach so that she eventually fell asleep.
__________________

Failures must be seen as amusements,they are trials which hone your skills.
The frog in the well drifts into the great ocean.
Feel pain,conteplate pain,accept pain and know pain.
Proud member of The Three Legandary Sannin Fanclub.
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:11 AM   #20
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter12:
Naruto woke her up twice; once to go and put the towels in the dryer, and once just before dawn. Rolling onto her side, she watched him sleepily as he pulled clothes out of his closet and into a very familiar pack.

"You have a mission?" Her voice was gravelly from sleep, and she knew she must look a mess, but when he turned, his smile wasn't at all mocking.

"Yes. I'll be gone a few days." He turned back to his packing and she sat up, attempting to clear the sludge that had settled between her ears when she was sleeping. Once she felt a little coherent, she realized he was already dressed.

"I'm sorry to keep you up last night," she mumbled.

He laughed softly, walking over and sitting on her side of the bed. Fingers brushed away her hair softly. "Go back to sleep, Sakura-chan. Its just now dawn. I'll let Tsunade know your going to be a little late this morning."

She blinked at him. "I should really go in."

His eyes narrowed. In her sleep-fogged brain, she was startled by how much fox was bleeding out of him. The early morning light burnished his hair and brought out the whisker-marks on his cheeks. The narrow strip of blue that wasn't hidden by his lashes was so very bright.

"Stay in bed, Sakura-chan. Get some rest."

Before she could argue, he had leaned forward and pressed his mouth to the corner of hers. It wasn't exactly a kiss, but it was surprising enough that whatever argument she was going to make melted in her brain. Rough fingertips smoothed across her cheek.

"Get some rest."

Then he was picking up his bag and moving out of the bedroom, leaving her with her fingers pressed to the corner of her mouth.

XxXxXxXxXx

Sakura stared at the remains of her lunch. It was hard to eat when your brain wasn't really into the mechanics of it. Using her chopstick to grind tiny, individual grains of rice into mush, she frowned.

Naruto had kissed her. The edge of her mouth still tingled. She had tried to talk to Ino about it, but the words had died in her throat as her friend watched her with unblinking eyes. She already knew what Ino's advice was going to be. She would tell her to go for it. Her fingers tightened around her chopstick.

Go for what?

If she could just get her brain to stop replaying the faint feel of slightly chapped lips, hot breath, and the way her stomach had tightened in response to both, she might be able to figure it out what it was that Naruto was thinking. Or what he wasn't thinking, but even that wasn't fair because Naruto did think. He just didn't think the same way she did.

Sighing, she set the chopsticks down and lifted her cup of hot tea to her lips and sipped. When they had been younger, she knew Naruto had had a crush on her. Everyone had known it. She had just assumed he had outgrown it around the time that they had put their entire lives into saving Sasuke. Even if he had promised her he would bring him back, there had never been any doubt that Naruto would have pulled down mountains if he had needed to.

She should have seen this coming. The way she had noticed him watching her, that kiss on her palm after Kisame…

Shivering a little, she ran her finger through her bangs.

Okay. So Naruto was probably interested. How did she feel about that? She couldn't say it wasn't a matter of attraction both ways. There had been too many encounters over the past year that that told her the attraction was mutual.

Still, that didn't tell her what she wanted to do about it! Standing up, she gathered her things, dropping the correct amount of coin on the table. She had to get back to work. She just didn't have the time needed to think this through right now. If she was lucky Naruto's mission would keep him gone long enough that she could think it through.
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:13 AM   #21
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter13:
Sakura brushed her bangs out of her eyes and hefted her basket a little higher. For once after a late shift, she had had the energy to shop for food. Even so, choices always became harder at this time of night. Why did they make so many brands of cheese? Reaching up to rub the bridge of her nose, she sighed. This store mostly catered to shinobi. What shinobi ate fat free cheese?

Shaking her head, she reached for a random brand that seemed to be normal and put it in the bag. Looking at the list she had put together, she pulled a pen out between her teeth and marked it off.

"Aren't you supposed to be in bed?"

She almost stabbed herself with her pen. "Naruto!"

"I was wondering where you had disappeared to." He continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "I stopped by and you weren't home."

"I just got off shift," she said with an eye roll. "I need food."

"You haven't eaten?"

Her eyes narrowed and she studied him. "So says the man who has yet to shower."

He shrugged carelessly, his grin firmly in place. Annoyed, because that smile was doing funny things to her insides, she shoved her basket firmly into his gut. He ooomphed, hands closing around the wicker as she twisted around.

"If you're going to annoy me, be useful."

"I'm always useful, Sakura-chan."

"Except when your not," She pointed out, refusing to acknowledge that her stomach was twisting itself in knots. It had absolutely nothing to do with how he smelled like the woods, or the way his mouth had kicked up slightly more in one corner than the other. Running her fingers through her short bangs, she closed her eyes tiredly. She really didn't want to have to deal with this right now. She wasn't ready to deal with Naruto and the way he confused her. It figured that he would show up when she least wanted to deal with him. She hadn't had the necessary time to think about this yet.

"Sakura-chan," Naruto's dry voice broke into her thoughts. "Did you mean to buy sardines? I thought you didn't like them."

She paused where she was reaching for a can of something. Blinking she turned back to her basket and frowned at it. "I don't."

He lifted a brow. "Sakura, why are you shopping so late?"

"I don't have anything for breakfast?"

"So you have a jar of peanut butter, a pound of rice, sardines, and a block of fake cheese?"

Sakura stared at her basket. She remembered grabbing the cheese, but the rest of the contents were foreign to her. Blinking several times, she looked back to her list.

"Right," Naruto muttered. Setting the basket down then he reached over and grasped her by the shoulders. "Come on, Sakura-chan."

"Naruto," her tone was flat. "That was my basket."

Anger was always better than butterflies. Butterflies were distracting and led her thoughts down a path that wasn't acceptable at this time of night. Not acceptable when she didn't know what she wanted them to mean yet.

"I really don't think anything in that basket is going to be edible." Naruto told her, a smile in his voice. "I mean, trust me, peanut butter and rice just don't go well together. I'm not sure what you planned on doing with the cheese."

She tilted around, frowning at him as they stepped outside. "Huh?"

He slid his arm around her shoulder, guiding her down the street. "Don't worry about it. We'll just raid Sasuke's cabinets in the morning and make him fix us breakfast."

She eyed him. "Do you think he knows how to cook breakfast? The type of breakfast real people eat?"

"He makes good onigiri." Naruto said thoughtfully. "His miso is a bit off though. He is stingy with the tofu."

"How often do you eat breakfast with Sasuke?"

"Not as often as I like," he sighed, his arm slipping from her shoulders to settle around her waist instead, his palm on her hipbone. "Free food should never be turned down, especially if I don't have to cook it. Sasuke is possessive of his pans."

Sakura swallowed. All thoughts of sleep fled at the feel of Naruto pressed up against her side, the hard muscle of his arm at her back, the heat of his palm at her hip. Chewing on the inside of her lip, she reached up to rub the bridge of her nose. What was she supposed to do with this man?

Looking up, she caught sight of her apartment. Nervousness tingled in her stomach, but she set her jaw. She needed to get this solved or she wasn't going to be able to sleep.

"Naruto?"

"Hmm?"

Sakura took a deep breath. "What are you doing?"

"Did you remember to grab your keys or are we going to have to break in?" Naruto asked, looking at the front door of her apartment, his expression thoughtful.

"I have my keys," she said, twisting around so she was facing him. He hadn't let go of her waist yet, so she was lot closer than she had anticipated being. Swallowing a little, took a deep breath. "You're avoiding the question."

"Which question, Sakura-chan?"

She pressed her fingers against his hand, her brow lifting. "What exactly you are doing?"

The smile left his face. His other hand came up and pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "What are you doing for breakfast?"

"Apparently bumming off Sasuke," she told him, eyes narrowing at his continued refusal to talk to her. "Why?"

"Lunch?"

"Naruto!"

A blond brow arched. "You're making it rather difficult to ask you out, Sakura-chan."

She stared at him. The edges of his mouth curved upwards and he leaned down, kissing the edge of her mouth again. "Go to bed. I'll be by at dawn to make sure you're awake enough for breakfast."

She blinked at him as he walked away, hands shoved deep into his pockets, a faint, whistling tune echoing back at her. Pressing her hand to her temples, she wondered if she pleaded temporary insanity if she could just hide in her room until she figured this out.
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:22 AM   #22
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter14:
Unfortunately, she didn't have time to hide in her room. Life had stopped giving her those little moments to herself when she turned twelve and lost her childhood to being a shinobi. With the Jounin trials coming soon, Sakura found herself splitting her time with Tsunade in the hospital and on the practice field learning moves her master thought were important when she wasn't chasing Sound ninja with her team. She stumbled home every night, wondering if Kakashi had ever been such a taskmaster. Thankfully, Shizune, knowing both Sakura and Tsunade too well, brought them meals. Sakura never had the energy to cook once she returned home, and would have lived off of trail rations had the kind medic nin not made a point to feed them at least once a day. Once or twice a week she would find herself eating ramen with Naruto and Sasuke, or whatever place Sasuke badgered Naruto into going instead. Those moments were hardly ever long enough for more than inhaling lunch and asking a few questions before she was out the door again. More embarrassing had been the time she had just fallen asleep against Sasuke for the entire lunch hour, waking up with just enough time to inhale an onigiri or two before going back to work.

She was highly suspicious of Naruto being behind her making it to her bed every night. Her memories of the past month held the vague impression of warmth and the wild, woodsy scent that she associated with Naruto was sometimes on her pillows. Some nights, the couch was the farthest she could manage to coach her tired, aching legs to carry her. She would have crashed on her floor if there had even been a rug. If Tsunade made training any more difficult, she was going to borrow a futon from Ino and throw it into her living room.

Sakura would have pulled her own hair out if she hadn't been able to see the differences in herself with the extra training. As a child she would have wailed at her shoulders and upper arms, worried that they made her look like a man. Even though her chakra control was damn near perfect, it was important that she had larger reserves and the stamina to use what she had. More importantly still, she had to be able to handle the strain of a hard fight and be able to save the lives of her two teammates. That pushed her more than anything. Strength training was a big part of that. Now she looked at herself and saw something her childhood self would have been horrified at, but the woman she was could find satisfaction in.

Three days from now was the Jounin exams.

XxXxXxXxXx

Sakura recognized the smell before anything really registered. It was as familiar as her favorite perfume and it clung to everything that it touched: antiseptic, blood, and the faintest scent of heated air that came with chakra use. The only question was, what was she doing in the hospital? Her short-term memory wasn't working properly and she was having a hard time placing the events that had recently occurred.

"She should be coming around soon."

Tsunade's voice was recognizable even in her daze. There was a note of brisk exasperation that she had found herself copying over the years, but rarely had directed at her. She usually saved it for problem patients like Kakashi-sensei, not her. Taking a deep breath, she started coughing immediately, her lungs and ribs painfully contracting with the heavy motion.

"Sakura-chan?"

Cold hands pressed against her chest and she was immediately able to breath easier. The coughing jarred her memory of pressure and pain, and it took a few moments later before she was able to put all the pieces together. This time, her groan was from more memory than the pain.

"Sakura?" This time it was Tsunade instead of Naruto and she kept her eyes stubbornly shut. Kakashi. Her Jounin exam had been against Kakashi. Now she understood why she felt like she had been stuck in a blender. It would figure that after months and months of struggling with her genjutsu, she would go up against someone who her complex genjutsu was absolutely wasted on. Training with Sasuke had taught her a little of what to expect in a flat out battle with him, but not enough that she hadn't needed to do that. Naruto was going to kill her…

She had held her own fairly well; Kakashi seemed more interested in testing her skills than taking her down. She had managed to land more than one chakra-enhanced punch and then she had… Oh. Right. That probably hadn't been the best idea. If the pounding of her skull and the heat in her ribs and back said anything, it had been a terrible idea. It took some work to keep the satisfied smile off her face.

It had worked though. Something (or Kakashi) had apparently flattened her after her little trap, but it had worked well enough that she was almost positive that Kakashi was somewhere in the hospital as well. It had worked. Lying there in the hospital bed, she ignored the hands that were pressing against her lungs and carefully tested the memory. Of all the possible Jounin they could have thrown at her, Kakashi had been the last she would have considered. She had thought he was still out fighting Akatsuki. Apparently not.

When fighting someone at Kakashi's skill level, her normal approach would have been to flatten them as soon as possible. The problem with her old Sensei was that he was quite aware of what she could and could not do with her hits, and he knew the feel of her chakra. The fact that he hadn't uncovered his sharingan from the start had given her an idea. Complex genjutsu was wasted on a sharingan, and adept users could move very quickly in and out of them. However, fighting Naruto had required something else. Her training with Naruto (under Sasuke's very watchful eyes) had served two purposes. The first had been to teach her the art, the second was to help Naruto learn at least to recognize when he was being attacked with genjutsu.

So instead of using deep, complex layers, she had thrown them at her teammate as quickly and as thickly as possible. It was the same method she had hit Kakashi with. Using her strength to hide the carefully controlled weave of low-level genjutsu, all her summoning techniques had taught her something after all, she had carefully started her third trap. Once she sprang the accumulated low-level genjutsu, she had figured a possible thirty seconds before Kakashi had worked through them.

Everything had worked as she had planned, except for that last trap. Groaning at another burst of Chakra from Tsunade, she coughed violently. Next time she set up a trap like that and used explosive tags, she was going to make sure she wasn't spread quite so thin. She was going to be lucky if she ended up with just a lecture from Sasuke on the safe distance from explosions, much less Naruto. Currently though, she had another problem. She could either 'wake up' to tell Tsunade what was hurting or she could keep her eyes shut and hope that Sasuke and Naruto would be gone when she woke up again.

"Sakura," Tsunade's voice held a note this time that told her she wasn't going to get any more time to herself. Sighing, she gave in to the inevitable and blinked her eyes open, wincing at the lights of the room, and the expression on the faces behind Tsunade. "Ah, you are awake then."

"Kakashi?"

"A few broken bones. Only one of the cuts we deep enough for us to worry; nothing we couldn't heal. Your head wound, on the other hand, we wanted to keep an eye on." She clucked her tongue.

Sakura winced. Head injuries, even with perfect chakra control, were tricky. Surface injuries were easily healed, but it was best to leave the internal bruising to nature. Someone who came in with a ruined kidney had less hospital time than someone with a major concussion did.

"Did I pass?"

Tsunade crossed her arms and sighed. "We haven't received word from the judges yet, but it took them half an hour to clear the testing grounds so the next match could be presented." A faint, flickering smile curved her lips. "Kakashi will be sporting an interesting scar."

It probably wouldn't have been so bad if she hadn't committed herself to winning. Odds were anything less than everything would have failed her. Unfortunately, she had either overestimated herself, underestimated Kakashi, or she had just put too much strain on her chakra control… she wasn't entirely sure which. Another one of those things she was going to have to think about when she wasn't ignoring two very irritated men. Men who were irritated at her for doing her job even if she had taken a very small, if only slightly unnecessary risk…

"Well, you're going to have that concussion for a few days until your natural healing abilities kick in," Tsunade said finally, her fingers probing the wound on the back of her skull carefully. "I would suggest having someone stick around to check on you, but I don't think that is going to be a problem."

Sakura closed her eyes. She had read a story once, about a ninja who had painted jutsu signs on a pair of strange shoes and then just clicked her heels out of danger. Transportation scrolls were difficult, and dangerous to carry into enemy territory, but who looked at shoes? Hearing the sounds of Tsunade walking away, she internally cringed. She really needed to look into something.


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Old 01-12-2009, 11:34 AM   #23
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter15:

Sakura woke slowly, automatically blinking sleep from her eyes. To her relief, the faintly hovering black spots in her vision were no longer impairing her sight. That meant that the careful healing meditations she had been slowly forcing herself into were working. There was still a pounding headache behind her eyes, but it was no longer so unbearable that the lights and faintest noises hurt. Sasuke had been forcing a particularly horrible broth down her throat (really, that was punishment enough) that had helped combat her nausea.

Rolling slowly onto her side, she blinked at the window. The sun was starting to set. She didn't hear the sounds of Naruto or Sasuke moving around in the kitchen, and she tried to remember what Naruto had told her over lunch. Something about a report to Tsunade about something…

Slowly sitting up, she tested her body. Her head didn't spin around, and to her relief, even sliding out of the bed didn't upset her internal equilibrium. Pleased, she sat on the edge of the bed and considered her options.

Today had been a strange mingling of exhaustion and a pounding headache that reminded her of the many times she had drained her chakra to nothing and tried to keep going. Reaching up she ghosted her fingers against the spot where a blow had landed. She hoped Kakashi had the brains to avoid Naruto and Sasuke. Handling both of them would have been a challenge for even the copy ninja. Naruto. Well, even with a pounding headache this had given a chance to consider her relationship with the energetic blond. Never let it be said that a concussion wasn't good for something. Her though process might have been choppy and painful, but she had managed to think. Which was more than the past few months had given her. Time always gave her a chance to come to some realizations and this hadn't been an exception.

She liked being kissed by Naruto. She just didn't know what to do about it. This wasn't like Sasuke. There was blood, sweat, and oaths between them. The bonds couldn't be broken easily, but this was one of the things that could ruin everything; she was torn between nervous anticipation and nausea. Some of that was probably from the concussion, but the way her stomach twisted in on itself wasn't helping.

She needed to breathe. Air that wasn't tinted with Naruto, Sasuke's and her own skin. Running her hands through her bangs, she decided a walk would be a good idea. She was going to get a lecture (well, what was one more?), but at least a walk would give her a chance to clear her head enough to formulate the arguments necessary to deal with Naruto logic. Wincing, she rubbed her temples at the thought. Naruto logic. Now she was actually considering dating the man?

Walking to the closet, she hunted down a long sleeved shirt that Naruto had left in the small closet and pulled it over her head. It wouldn't snow for a few more weeks, but it was chilly outside. Carefully listening for the sounds of anyone approaching she moved to the window. It took some work, but she finally wiggled out the absurdly small window before crawling down the side of the wall with the careful application of chakra. Her head spun a little, but when her headache didn't increase, she took it as a good sign that her concussion was healing.

She walked slowly, enjoying the change of surroundings and the warm air. Finding a bench, she settled down and sighed, closing her eyes. There was so much she still had to think through. Naruto was one of the biggies, but so was her future. Jounin. Sasuke. The Council. It was all enough to give her a migraine. Reaching up to rub her temples, she blinked at the sound of someone calling her name.

"Sakura!"

Lee's cheerful face greeted her as she turned to find him waving her down, legs moving quickly as he caught up. Thankfully, he seemed to be the only one around and there wasn't any sign of Naruto or Sasuke… yet.

"Sakura," Lee's eyebrows were drawn down with disapproval. "I wasn't aware you were supposed to be out of bed yet."

"I decided I needed fresh air." When his eyebrows drew down even further she leveled him with her best stare. "I'm a medic-nin. I am perfectly capable of deciding when I can get up and move around."

Not that Sasuke or Naruto were going to be particularly enthusiastic about that defense.

Lee however, gave in. She doubted it had anything to do with her glare, and everything to do with the fact that she dragged him back to bed after injuries. He was probably going to save this and use it against her at a later date. Oh well. She would just sick Tenten on him.

"Well! Then I shall sit with you while you breathe in the fresh night air!"

"You will?"

"Of course! It would be beneath the valor of my own heart to leave such a graceful flower to defend herself in a wounded state from the evils of the common world!"

There was the faintest spark of mischief behind the dark of Lee's eyes. She never would have known to look for it if it hadn't been for an off comment from Tenten. Still, Lee was probably the only person who could have managed to not only sit her down on a bench, but also convince her to stay while he dashed off to locate a hot cup of tea for her.

"You really didn't have to get the tea, Lee."

"You were chilled! If I had let you stay in the cold, I would have had to do 500 push-ups."

Really, there was just no arguing with the man. Adulthood had only managed to temper his energy and enthusiasm. Maybe. She wasn't sure anything could temper his enthusiasm for long. Taking another sip of her warm beverage, she felt some of the tension in her shoulders relax. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply before pausing.

Cracking open an eye, she turned and pinned Lee with her best "I-am-in-charge" look.

"Why would you have had to do 500 pushups?"

Lee paused, his eyes widening beneath his bushy brows. "Sakura! I could not…"

"You were at the meeting with Naruto and Sasuke."

Guilt colored his cheeks an interesting shade of pink. "I had the wonderful chance of speaking to your protectors!"

Tightening her grip on her mug, she leaned forward. "Lee, did they ask you to check on me?"

"It is likely," Lee said, keeping his eyes moving. "That I mentioned that I wished to see how you were recovering."

Huffing, she turned her face away. "That isn't nice, Lee."

The young man launched into a speech, but she wasn't paying any attention. Her eyes had landed on a figure moving silently down the gloom of the street, and she couldn't look away.

"Lee."

"… to make sure that all is well…"

"Lee!"

"… beautiful flower of YOUTH!"

"Lee!" This time her voice seemed to catch his attention. Dark eyes landed her face.

"Yes Sakura?"

"Why is the Kazekage here?"

Silence. Apparently she had discovered another temper for the energy that was Lee. Swallowing, Gaara was intimidating even when he wasn't trying to be, she had no promises that he was trying to behave himself just then either. Gamely, she straightened her posture.

"Sakura."

"Kazekage-sama," Sakura responded. "Can I help you with something?"

He ignored her question and settled his gaze on Lee. Sakura had to give her friend credit; he bore under the scrutiny well. Studying his face, she decided it was the lack of eyebrows. It took away familiar expressions. Darting her eyes back and forth between the men, she narrowed her eyes when she caught yet another blush gracing Lee's face.

"Naruto sent both of you?" Sakura blurted the words out before she could manage to stop them, and she soon found herself under close scrutiny instead. Setting her mouth in a heavy frown, she did her best to glower at both men.

"I cannot believe this."

Setting her cup down she crossed her arms. Lee at least had the grace to look abashed. Gaara ignored her irritation and chose instead to survey the surrounding areas.

"You passed."

Sakura blinked. "I beg your pardon."

Those eyes flickered back at her and Lee was strangely silent. "You passed."

She knew that… oh. Oh. Staring at Sand's Kazekage, she furiously attempted to put the pieces together around her growing headache. She had fought Kakashi. Tsunade had invited the Kazekage to watch the Jounin trials. This was allowed in their treaty as long as Gaara was willing to let in representatives of Leaf watch the next trials of Sand. More importantly, it was a political statement to the Council that Gaara was considered an important ally and friend to Leaf; someone who had close ties to Naruto as a jinchuriki and as a personal friend. Someone who held a position that Naruto made no pretense at wanting for himself when it came to Leaf. Political maneuvering.

Her master was brilliant.

This was making her head hurt.

She was going to make Naruto's head hurt.

Pursing her lips in irritation at the faint twitch to the Kazekage's lips, she leaned back a little further in her bench, wondered if she was she doing was supremely stupid, and opened her mouth anyway.

"How is your brother?"

It was probably a bit dangerous tossing that out like that in the middle of the street, but the question was safe enough as it was one of the few topics that Sakura could be credited to discussing with the Kazekage of Sand. It was well known that she had saved Kankaro's life, after all, and it wouldn't do to let Gaara think he had come away with anything but even footing between them. She doubted anyone else would pick up the subtext between them, and if they did, there was enough that they wouldn't know that it was reasonable to expect them to be unable to connect those very important dots.

"Still among the living."
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:43 AM   #24
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

"Good." Sakura knew that Gaara knew that she wasn't overly interested in whether his brother was still alive or not and the way he turned his shoulder to study the area around them said more than any eyebrows he might not have. He understood that she had gotten his message about what his presence meant at the trials, and he understood that he still owed her a debt for his brother's life. Even if his deliberate turning of his body was a delicate reminder that he would pay in his own time.

She wondered if that sand wall was working again and if a Kazekage bounced any differently than Naruto when they hit brick walls. Before she could decide if testing her theory was as stupid as her gut was telling her, a disapproving voice cut through her musings.

"Sakura-chan! You're supposed to be in bed!"

Twisting on the bench, she leveled Naruto with her most disapproving frown. To her surprise, it hardly fazed him as he breezed over to the bench, a frown of his own planted firmly on his face.

"It's cold outside."

"Lee got me tea."

"You have a concussion."

"Not anymore."

"You should be in bed!"

"I got tired of counting cracks in the ceiling."

Naruto scowled at her. "You're at Sasuke's. There aren't any cracks in the ceiling!"

Narrowing her eyes, she glared at him. "You sent two ninja's to baby sit me! Did you even bother to tell Sasuke that they were going to be in his apartment?"

"That's not the point."

Ah. A crack in her dear friend's argument. Pouncing on the faint flicker of alarm in his eyes, she leaned back. "So you didn't."

"That's not the point!"

Comfortable in her ability to turn the argument on its heel, she was startled when Naruto leaned forward, his eyes suddenly less than a fingers breath from her own.

"You're hurt." His tone could have been soft except for the hard rumble of temper underneath. Her eyes widened at the sparks of red behind the black of his pupils. "You should have stayed at Sasuke's."

"Naruto…"

He stood suddenly, his shoulders relaxing as he smiled at Gaara. "How long are you going to stay?"

"I will be leaving in the morning."

"Be safe. We haven't gotten rid of all the Sound-nin yet."

Gaara gave a brief nod.

"Naruto," Sakura started again but was cut off when Naruto turned around and picked her up off the bench.

"Thanks for your help Lee!"

"My pleasure!"

Sakura held her tongue until they were far enough away she hoped the Kazekage couldn't hear them. She needed to maintain some dignity after all.

"Naruto!"

He stopped moving. They were tucked between two buildings halfway to Sasuke's. She could make out the outline of his jaw and the sparks in his eyes, and she wondered what he saw for a moment before she took a deep breath.

"Why are you carrying me?"

Muscles jumped along his arms and she frowned at him.

"Because we need to get back to Sasuke's and you have a concussion."

The reasonable note in his voice didn't exactly cover his remaining temper. Scowling, she poked him hard in the shoulder. "Put me down."

"No."

This jab was chakra enhanced and he winced, but stubbornly held her. "I mean it Sakura. I'm carrying you back."

Setting her teeth, she crossed her arms and studied the lines of his face. Something had happened. She didn't know if it was something from the meeting, or if it had happened during the time she had spent asleep at Sasuke's, but something had gotten under his skin.

"Are we alone?"

He started, but his nod came a moment later.

"You're sure?"

"Sakura."

"Then start talking."

His breath ghosted over her face as he exhaled, but he made no move to put her down. "Kakashi finally got around to updating Tsunade about the Akatsuki's movements."

Sakura pressed her lips together. It must have been important if Naruto was calling Tsunade by her actual name. "Go on."

Another sigh. "They haven't given up."

"We knew that."

"He thinks it's just a matter of time before they make another move."

Sakura bit her lip. "Naruto…"

"Tsunade thinks I should stop going on missions."

"You don't agree with her."

"I won't hide." There was an edge to Naruto's voice now.

Sakura bit her lip and considered everything she had learned tonight. Gaara's silent power play on behalf of Naruto. Her own accomplishment to reach Jounin. Sasuke. The Akatsuki hadn't directly attacked Leaf yet, but she had to believe they knew enough of the village thanks to Itachi (the bastard deserved to rot in his grave) that they would be comfortable making such a move. They knew the strength of the clans that lived here, and they knew their own strength. If Naruto stayed at the village… if he stayed at the village there were multiple responses the council would have.

The worst would be that they would use this to prove their point that Naruto was too dangerous to keep as a loose cannon, regardless of his loyalty to the village. The best would be that it would force the Hyuuga's hand early and they would discover exactly how much support Naruto had among the Clan heads. Hinata was winning favor, but how much would be enough this early in the game. Sasuke legally had a vote, but there was no guarantee that his vote would be acknowledged.

If the Akatsuki did attack, now would be the time to do it. Tsunade had worked hard to smooth things over inside Leaf but there was still some unrest among the larger clans that had nothing to do with political positions. Naruto had the amazing ability to win friends wherever he went, but not even he could be everywhere at the same time. Some would never trust a container for a demon, regardless of his accomplishments.

"Sakura-chan?"

Which meant they were going to have to do some work themselves. She needed to speak to Shikamaru and Neiji and couldn't. Blowing her bangs out of her face in exasperation, she tried to decide how much work it would take to get Ino alone long enough to ask her some pointed questions.

"Sakura?"

What they needed was a plan and a course of action to deal with this…

"Sa-ku-ra."

Blinking, she finally glanced up and stared at Naruto whose face was suddenly a lot closer than it had been. She stared at him, and swallowed as now that he had her attention, instead of moving, he watched her. There was an expression in his eyes; a glint of something bright and sparking, and her mouth went dry.

"Sakura."

She swallowed around the knot in her throat. His tone was soft, curiously gentle as he whispered the syllables of her name. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.

"Naruto."

… and waited. She didn't know what she was waiting for, but the faintly scratchy feeling of his cheek against hers wasn't it. Blinking her eyes open in surprise, she found herself starring at his hair.

"You're one of my precious people, you know that, right?"

Whatever it had been in his eyes, he had buried it again. Sighing in exasperation, she gave in and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

"If you think you're going to leave me behind when you do go, I'll beat you so hard Tsunade has to put you in traction."

"I know."

"Good." Reaching up, she tangled her fingers in his hair for a moment. This was Naruto. Her Naruto. A faint smile tugging at her lips as she breathed in his scent deeply, she savored the moment before she fisted her hand in his hair and pulled.

"Hey!"

"Sasuke is waiting for us!" Sakura reminded him, tugging harder. "I refuse to be on the end of one of those stares from him because you made us late!"

"Sakura-chan!" His voice was a whine now and she smiled vengefully and gave another firm tug. "If you are going to insist on carrying me, you blonde idiot, then you can at least walk! Which I should be doing."

"Walking. Ow. Yes. Sakura. Ow. Ow. Ow. That hurts Sakura-chan!"

"Pansy."

"OW."
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Old 01-12-2009, 01:23 PM   #25
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter 17:
Sakura lowered her hands, panting a little with the force of the motions she had used to snap the jutsu into place

kura lowered her hands, panting a little with the force of the motions she had used to snap the jutsu into place. Feeling the way the air hummed, she finally relaxed. Even Sasuke would have been impressed with that particular security measure. The jutsu wasn't very economical if you wanted something that would do more than warn you that someone was in hearing distance before dissipating. It was short lived; she would have maybe five minutes. That was okay. She didn't need more than that. Squaring her shoulders, she stood in the middle of her living room and finally gave words to the thoughts that had been plaguing her for days.

"I'm falling in love with Uzumaki Naruto."

She wasn't aware she had tensed every muscle in her body until her shoulders started to relax. She wasn't sure what she expected to happen, but Naruto didn't fall out of a closet and Ino didn't appear in her door. Her roof didn't fall in and there wasn't any sign of Itachi coming back from the dead, smelling a bouquet and quoting bad poetry. Kakashi hadn't appeared to tell her that he had sworn off his Ichi Ichi; the world was obviously not coming to an end.

"I'm falling for Naruto." The words were softer this time, more of a groan. Raking her nails through her hair, she stared at her ceiling. What was she going to do? Rubbing her temples, she found herself going back over her pitiful circular logic. The answers weren't appearing out of thin air and there wasn't a textbook to tell her what to do. In the past when she had had trouble with her fear for Sasuke she had drilled her anxiety into her training and sometimes into sparse conversations with Naruto.

Naruto.

Oh gods. She could just imagine having this conversation with him! Blanching at the thought, she tugged fisted her hands into her own hair and tugged. This wasn't working. What she needed… what she needed… what she needed was a mission.

A mission.

Perking up at the thought, Sakura quickly pulled on a pair of sandals and headed for the Hokage's office. Surely Tsunade would think getting some exercise and some mission pay into her account was going to be a great idea.

XxXxXxXx
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Old 01-12-2009, 01:35 PM   #26
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter 18:
Sakura hefted the bundle of medical scrolls she had decided to return to the library. It was on her way to bullying Tsunade into letting her on a mission, and now as good a time as any to deal with the large stack that had been accumulating on her bookshelf. Laying the pile on a table, she rolled her neck as she attempted to decide which scrolls she should put back first.

"Sakura-san, I didn't expect to find you here."

Hinata's quiet voice was a welcome surprise, and Sakura turned with a smile. The Hyuuga was standing with her own scrolls firmly tucked under her arm. She was in casual clothing and had a slightly uncertain smile on her face, but her expression was welcoming.

"Hinata, I haven't seen you months!"

"Things have been a bit busy," the other ninja agreed. Sakura almost snorted. Busy was an understatement. The Hyuuga had been waging a silent political war inside her clan, and for most of it she had had nothing more than the unwavering support of her cousin. Speaking of…

"Neji let you out of the house alone?"

"Not exactly," Hinata muttered, her voice exasperated.

"Hello, Sakura-san."

Sakura turned her head and found herself studying Neji's familiar, handsome profile. He seemed relaxed, but there was the faintest hint of heated air, which suggested he had been using chakra recently.

"Neji," Sakura murmured. Turning, tilted her head at Hinata's scrolls. "Do you need any help finding anything?"

"Oh," Hinata said. "No. I have everything I needed."

Sakura shrugged. "I have spent enough time in this place to know where most anything is. Let me know if you ever need help finding something, okay?"

"Thank you Sakura-san."

"Your welcome."

"Perhaps I'll see you around."

Sakura smiled. "I hope so." It was entirely unlikely that she would see anything of Hinata until the Clan issues settled. She nodded at Neji.

"Good day, Sakura-san." Neji murmured, tilting his head towards the door, his eyes locking on Hinata's. She shook her head in obvious amusement before bowing. Neji mimicked her movements and they turned and silently left the library. Sakura pursed her lips before returning to her own pile of books. There wasn't anything she could do at to help them at the moment. Best to handle her end with Naruto and then let things work out as they would for everyone else.

But first, she needed a mission so she could think.

XxXxXxXx

"Sand?" Sakura repeated, her eyes wide. "You want me to go to Sand. With Naruto. To watch the Jonin trials."

Tsunade lifted a brow her arms crossed under her ample cleavage. "Do I need to have your ears checked out, Sakura?"

"My hearing is fine," Sakura said with scowl. "I just don't understand the request. You haven't let any of us further than half a days run from the village in weeks."

'Since my own trials,' she added mentally.

Tsunade looked at her for a long moment before she nodded to the door. "Lock it."

Sakura blinked at her in surprise before moving to do as the Hokage had requested. Under her fingers the door warmed for a moment as the lock kicked into place.

"Sit down Sakura."

Sakura did as she was bid, her teeth tucked around her lip. She could only think of a handful of times Tsunade had locked the door, and only one other time had she been on this side of it. It was the day she had told her where to find Sasuke.

"I need Naruto to be out of the village for an extended period of time."

Sakura stared at her for a long time. There were two reasons that she could think of that Tsunade would rather have Naruto out of the village than in it and she didn't like either of them. "Sensei?"

Tsunade's long fingers folded together, and when she spoke again, her voice held a note that formed a knot in Sakura's gut.

"Do you remember the details of Gaara's capture?"

"Yes." How could she forget? They had been burned into her brain by the soft tones of his sister that night she struggled to heal Kankuro. The way the Kazekage had protected his own and in the process, had lost his life. Licking dry lips, she stared at her master.

"That would never work with Naruto."

Tsunade frowned. "Perhaps."

Sakura shook her head. "No. It wouldn't. The village might not like Naruto, all of them anyway, but they would never allow a single Akatsuki to humiliate them in that way."

"But what if they could draw Naruto out of this village and into another; another village that he felt strong ties to."

Sakura stared at her.

"The story of Naruto's bridge has done much good over the years, but I am afraid it won't do him any favors with the Akatsuki." Tsunade said in a calm voice. "Kakashi has reason to believe that they will strike soon, Sakura, and Naruto must be far enough that he will not know of the attack until he cannot try to help.

"Are you… are you certain?"

"No." Tsunade admitted. "Nothing in certain I am afraid. There is always the possibility that this is an elaborate scheme to attack Naruto while he goes to Sand, but I don't believe they know Naruto's friendship with Gaara well enough to suspect that I would send him to sand for this."

"Why me?"

"Because between you and Sasuke, the council will only allow me to send you. Sasuke may be suitable for hunting Sound, but they see no reason to send him to another village and risk you two leaving him there in some misguided sense of loyalty."

"Sasuke is ours."

"And you are Leaf's." Tsunade said firmly. Her expression softened a little. "Think of it this way, Sakura. If something happens out there, who better to have here to come after you?"

Lacing her fingers together, Sakura sighed. "Naruto won't forgive us if something happens to that village and he was deliberately taken away to keep from protecting them."

"Naruto is shinobi and he will take his orders the same as you." Tsunade said flatly. "The Council has demanded the right to see into this jounin class and I have no reason to turn them down. Naruto is my first choice to go to Sand and you are my second. This is a direct order and if either of you breech it, I will put you both in a holding cell for six months. Do I make myself clear?"

Sakura nodded.
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Old 01-12-2009, 01:48 PM   #27
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter19:

"We're going to Sand!"

Sakura turned, fingers adjusting the straps of her pack along her shoulders. "You are the only person I know how is actually happy to go into the desert. Even if it is in the middle of winter, its still the desert."

Naruto laced his fingers behind his head and gave her his most winning smile. "Sand is very pretty, Sakura-chan."

She lifted both brows. "I beg your pardon?"

Naruto waved one hand along lazily. "You'll see. I'll show you."

Giving him a suspicious look, she shook her head. "Only you Naruto… how pissed was Sasuke at being left behind?"

Naruto paused from where he was adjusting his own back. A wrinkled formed between his brows. "He seemed okay with it."

Sakura blinked. "Huh?"

Naruto nodded, a curious expression on his face. "Yeah. Do you think he is planning something?"

Sakura gave him a dirty look. "Naruto. This is Sasuke. When is he not planning something?"

Naruto's smile turned sheepish. "Okay. Do you think he is planning something that has to do with us?"

"Always," Sakura said with a roll of her eyes. "The question simply becomes how much can he accomplish behind our backs in the time we are going to be gone."

Naruto was silent for a long time. "Do you think we can get back home before a weeks out?"

"Not even if we ran ourselves into exhaustion."

His crooked smile spoke volumes. "We'll maybe we should try."

Sakura considered his words before shaking her head. "Even if we could get back in time to spoil his plan, you know he will have figured out several contingencies to keep us busy until whatever he has finished is over. Best to just hope for the best and figure out why exactly Tsunade wanted us to go on this mission." She turned her eyes away from him.

"Yeah… about that…"

"We better get moving," Sakura said firmly, meeting his eyes with hers. "It's a long run to Sand."

Naruto's brows were tucked together, and she could read the suspicion in his eyes clearly, but she couldn't deal with it. Not now. Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself into the trees and pushed off from the branch.

Her fingers didn't relax on the straps of her pack until she heard Naruto behind her.

XxXxXxXx

Tsunade drummed her fingers on her desk, studying the contents of her small teacup. Shizune had changed the cups out again. Surely she didn't expect her to drink less if the cup was smaller? Eventually she would just get bored and use the jug. Sighing, she poured as much sake as she dared into the tiny thing and watched the contents.

As Hokage, she couldn't start drinking out of the jug until the last of her appointments had finished. Scowling again, she didn't bother to look up when the door opened.

"You're late."

"Hn."

Shaking her head, she looked up and studied the Uchiha in front of her. "Where is the other one?"

"Surely you weren't about to compare me to my wayward student?" A voice from her right questioned.

"You'll be lucky if that's the least of my comparisons, Kakashi." Tsunade warned as she downed the contents of the small teacup. She studied the cup for a long moment before sighing.

"What do you have for me?"

"That Akatsuki are no where near Leaf." Kakashi said mildly.

"We knew that. Go on."

"Pakkun informs me that Sakura and Naruto will reach Sand by morning."

"Quick."

"Quicker than if they had been moving at a regular pace." Kakashi agreed. "It's almost as if one of them was worried about something."

Tsunade took another drink, ignoring his jab. "Sakura might be mine now, but she was yours first. I imagine she has developed a thorough dislike of being late."

Sasuke snorted.

"Do you have something to add?" Tsunade questioned, pinning Sasuke with her eyes.

"It is done."

Tsunade studied him for a long moment. "You are sure your information is correct?"

"Neji verified it." Sasuke said mildly. "When the time comes, they will vote as I asked." A faint smile curled the edges of his mouth.

Yes. Tsunade was fairly sure he was correct. They would vote the direction the young Uchiha had required, but only partially because of the information he was currently blackmailing them with.

It was the eyes, she decided. Not so much the fact that they were so dark it was difficult to read them, but the way he watched you from them. As if he could strip the flesh from your bones with just his eyes and was just waiting for the chance to do so.

"Good. Perhaps we can have this cleared up before Naruto and my pupil return." Tsunade sighed.

"Will you fight the council if we loose?" Kakashi questioned. His voice was at his most mild and Tsunade had learned a long time ago that it was also when he was his most dangerous.

"It will depend. But if things go that badly, I expect you two to get to Sand to stay there."

"Ah."

"That is a direct order, Kakashi." Tsunade informed him. "One that neither of you will be able to afford disobeying."

"Yes, Hokage-sama."

She snorted. "Don't give me that crap. I don't fully expect things to go that far, either. The young Hyuuga has her clan firmly in hand, and the rest of the council will be hard pressed to vote against my proposal without support."

"There will be trouble." Sasuke said.

"Yes." She pursed her lips. "Even when my proposal passes, there will be unrest. You had best watch your back, Sasuke. Yours' and your teams."

The young man nodded.

"Well, if that's all," Kakashi said cheerfully, pulling out a familiar book. "I have some reading to catch up on."

"Not in my office." Tsunade said firmly. "Both of you, out."

XxXxXxXx
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Old 01-12-2009, 02:07 PM   #28
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter20:
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."

"Hn."

"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."

"Hn."

"Ah, she got you with that one did she?"

XxXxXxXx

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.

"Naruto?"

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.

"Good boy."
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Old 01-12-2009, 02:25 PM   #29
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

chapter21:

Sakura relaxed, starring into the bustling of the city. It had taken her most of yesterday to feel comfortable in the sand. Footing here was different. You weren't able to plant yourself and take a stand like at home. Sand-nin shifted about and around each other smoothly, as if they had somehow managed to incorporate the earth to their advantage.

To her utter disgust, Naruto had managed it to.

"It's like walking on water."

Sakura turned, her expression blank. "What?"

"Walking." He said, a slow smile curling the edges of his mouth. "It's like you're on water."

"You were terrible at walking on water."

"But I'm good at it now," he returned. Clasping his hands behind his head, he grinned. "You like it here, right?"

"Its… interesting."

"You can do better than that!" Naruto scolded, eyes laughing at her.

Sakura narrowed her eyes. Before she could speak up, a voice cut through their banter.

"Are you two always like this?" Temari asked, hand shielding her eyes as she walked over.

"Only when he is being annoying." Sakura said cheerfully.

Naruto made a wounded face. "I'm hurt Sakura-chan. I'm never annoying."

"Except when you are."

"If I was a lesser man, I would pout."

Shaking her head, Sakura turned her back to him and faced Temari. "How many will be taking the test."

"Enough to keep you here longer than expected." Temari said with a shrug. "Gaara has the list. Which is why I came down here. He would like to speak to both of you, in his office."

"Playing message-girl?" Naruto questioned, a cheeky smile on his face.

"Keeping the strange-nin out of trouble." Temari returned. "Tsunade feels that you need a babysitter and Gaara agreed. I just got stuck with the short stick."

Sakura rolled her yes. "And you said we were bad."

"I can only speak the truth," Temari said pleasantly.

"I'll be sure to pass that along to Shikamaru," Sakura said as she followed the Sand-nin. "He appreciates… truth."

Temari smiled, showing off her teeth. "You do that."

"Sakura," Naruto whispered. "You sure that's a good idea?"

"Shikamaru could use a little excitement," Sakura returned with a shrug. "He gets bored easily."

"No," Naruto corrected with a laugh. "He just doesn't bother with anything too troublesome."

Sakura winked at him. "I think trouble might have just found him, anyway."

Naruto was silent before he grinned. "I win."

She stopped and stared at him. "What?"

"Neji and I have a bet."

"Neji and you?"

"Yup. And I win."

"Win what?"

Naruto just grinned.

"Hey! Are you two coming or not?"

"Yes, yes," Sakura called back as she grabbed Naruto's arm. "Win what?"

"It's just a little something between me and Neji." Naruto informed her, eyes dancing. "Don't worry about it."

"I'm going to beat you so hard…"

"That Tsunade has to put me in traction. I know."

Sakura lowered her lashes. "Are you mocking me?"

"We are here!" Temari said loudly as she opened the door.

"I would never mock you," Naruto said, eyes wide and his hand pressed over his heart as they walked into the room. "You hit too hard."

"Do I even want to know?" Gaara questioned. Sakura looked over at him, but his features gave nothing away.

"They have been doing this since we started walking," Temari informed her brother. "We should probably let them fight it out. Put them out on display for the village. Show off the strength of our allies."

Sakura took a deep breath before bowing to the Kazekage. "Thank you for the hospitality of Sand."

Gaara returned the motion with a half bow. "Sand welcomes you."

Naruto leaned forward, a wide grin on his face. "I brought ramen."

Interest sharpened his eyes and Sakura bit down on a groan when she realized Naruto had been telling the truth. It had to be a jinchuuriki thing. Lacing her fingers behind her back to keep from smacking Naruto in the back of his blond head, she took a deep breath. Reaching into her pack, she pulled out the scroll that Tsunade had requested she deliver.

Naruto tilted his head. "Did I know you had that?"

"No." Sakura said mildly. "You didn't."

Gaara accepted the scroll with a nod, before his eyes went back to Naruto. "You will have dinner with me."

Temari leaned forward and whispered. "You're with me."

Sakura's lips twitched. "You think it's a good idea to leave those two alone?"

"Better than being forced to sit next to them while they try to out eat each other in some of strange, male bonding." Temari muttered.

Sakura hesitated and then shrugged. "Sure. Better than ramen."

Naruto turned and faced the two women, his expression suspicious. "Nothing is better than ramen."

Sakura sighed heavily. "See what I have to deal with?"

"Right." Temari muttered. "I thought I had it bad!"

"Hey!"
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Old 01-12-2009, 02:41 PM   #30
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Re: Shade of the Leaf

-22-
"How was dinner with Temari?" Naruto asked as he joined her the next morning, his expression curious. She had already been asleep by the time he had gotten back to his quarters.

"How was dinner with Gaara?" Sakura shot back, adjusting the slightly large tunic that Temari had lent her. Naruto was wearing a similar shirt, and for once Sakura didn't feel like her skin was shriveling up and fleeing internally. Ah well. Such was the desert she supposed.

Naruto studied her out of the corner of his eyes. "You didn't do… girly things all night… did you?"

"Did you belch and scratch yourself and talk about all the strong ninja you had killed?" Sakura returned with a raised brow, the corner of her lips twitching.

"Right." Naruto muttered. Clearing his throat, he offered her his best "we behaved ourselves, really" smile. "Would you believe me if I said we talked politics?"

Sakura laughed. "Only if it was the politics of overtaking the ramen market."

"We're not that bad," Naruto scolded, his own eyes laughing. His eyes grew serious, even though his smile stayed the same. "We did actually talk about a few things."

"Other than ramen?"

"Other than ramen." Naruto agreed, shaking his head.

Walking over, Sakura slipped her arm through his and smiled at him. "I know. Sometimes it’s just too easy to tease you."

"You should be careful, Sakura-chan," Naruto warned as they began their walk to the testing grounds. "One day I might just take you seriously."

"I'm sure I'll think of something when that happens and surprise you." She teased. "You might be the number one unpredictable ninja, but I've had years to watch you."

"I'll keep that in mind." He promised. His eyes moved away from her smile and back towards the landscape in front of them. "We should probably figure out what we are both going to be taking mental notes on."

Sakura nodded. "There isn't going to be a lot of genjutsu used, I don't think. It's possible they have a talented chunin or two, but we would have heard of something through the rumor mills."

"Yeah. But they are going to have a lot of precise chakra use," Naruto pointed out. "Kankuro is a good example of what they can do. Maximum bang for minimum effort."

"They are a lot better at it than we are, the village as a whole." Sakura admitted. "I'll be able to follow what they are doing with their chakra and how it’s different than what even Sensei and I do, if you can make some mental notes on what techniques they are using that we haven't seen before."

"I can do that," Naruto assured her. "Shall we compare notes on our way back to Konoha?"

"We'll have to." Sakura said. "We can't write anything down, even to give it to Sensei. Everything has to stay here," she tapped his temple for emphasis. "Or else we breech our treaty."

Naruto blinked at her. "Then why send me?"

Sakura tilted her head. "Because you need the practice."

He stared at her for a long moment before blinking and smiling, his eyes lighting up bright enough that her chest tightened.

"Thanks Sakura."

"For what?"

"For believing in me." He said simply.

She snorted, wrapped her fingers around his and squeezing. "Sasuke and I both believe in you, Naruto."

"I know. It's just nice to hear it sometimes."

"Well, don't expect it often. Your head would get so big it would explode if we told you all the time." She poked him in the ribs. "Then what would happen?"

"Naruto-slime." His tone was solemn.

"Ew!"

"It wouldn't be that bad, Sakura-chan! I bet I would be very nicely colored slime. I could even live in your bathroom, free of charge."

"Naruto!"

"Awe, don't… ooomp." Naruto leaned over his gut where she had punched him.

"Sa-ku-ra!" He gasped.

"You better hurry," Sakura informed him as she continued to walk, "or you're going to be late."

"Sa-kura!"

She just waved over her shoulder.
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Failures must be seen as amusements,they are trials which hone your skills.
The frog in the well drifts into the great ocean.
Feel pain,conteplate pain,accept pain and know pain.
Proud member of The Three Legandary Sannin Fanclub.
Proud member of the Jiraiya Fanclub.
proud to be a member of uzumaki narutu.
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