AN: I don't own Naruto. Premise for the story belongs to DigiFruit, thanks for letting me take a run at this.
See You on the Other Side
Haruno Sakura lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the late morning sun. Taking a quick glance at the near cloudless sky, she smiled to herself as she took in the beauty of the environment surrounding her home village of Konoha.
A grin still present on her face, Sakura surveyed the already bustling street as she absent-mindedly smoothed her navy coloured skirt. It was a rare day off for the pink haired girl, one that she had not had for quite some time. As the apprentice to the Hokage Tsunade, she had been working hard the previous two years to improve her skills as a medical-nin. A gentle breeze ruffled the yellow shirt she usually wore underneath her red top on her days off.
As her cool emerald eyes scanned the crowd, they picked up an odd cropping of blond hair that made Sakura frown. The spiky head of hair stood out as it was not a common colour one would see in the village, and Sakura had only known two people with similar hair colours. Ino's hair was definitely a different shade, so that meant it could only be Naruto.
A wide smile split her face at the thought of the hyperactive blond finally coming home. She quickly weaved her way through the people on the street before reaching the blond who still had his back to her.
Sakura noticed immediately that Naruto was now taller than her, and she was slightly disheartened at that. Had so much time really passed?
She noticed that he was looking around the street in a curious fashion, almost as if he had never seen the buildings before. Sakura giggled softly at the thought that Naruto had somehow forgotten what the village looked like after spending so much time away. She was not as quiet as she thought, as the blond turned at the sound of her quiet laughter, and his blue eyes narrowed first, but then widened at the sight of her.
"It's you," He said shortly, with a note of something Sakura couldn't place in his voice.
The pink haired medical-nin frowned, "Why, hello to you too, Naruto. Is that all you have to say to me after seeing each other for the first time in two years? And to think that I was so excited when I saw you had finally come back."
Sakura's eyes raked over his face as she spoke. The blond's blue eyes were sharper than she had last remembered, and his face had lost much of its previous baby fat. The ever curious whisker like scars remained, however, and she smiled a little.
Naruto answered her question and bright smile with a sad look on his face. The blond continued staring into her eyes with an intensity that made Sakura nervous.
"W-What? Is there something on my face?" She asked, reaching up with her hand to wipe away any offending blemish.
The boy smiled at her softly, apprehensively. "Ah, no there's nothing on your face. It's just…hard to explain."
He opened his mouth some more to finish his sentence, and Sakura waited for his explanation. However, when Naruto failed to produce one, she could feel a familiar irritation itching at the back of her neck.
"Well, what is it then?" She crossed her arms but was quickly dissuaded from her annoyance at yet another sad look from Naruto. She had never seen him look like that, and if she were honest with herself, it didn't suit him very well. Sakura wondered what had happened, and it scared her to see Naruto so quiet around her. Distracted, she wasn't prepared for the heavy hand that dropped onto her shoulder.
Surprised, her body gave a jerk before she ducked underneath the hand and turned to face her would be attacker, dropping into a stance.
"Ho! Calm down there, girlie," A tall, white haired man dressed in a set of white and red robes held up his hands defensively while smiling.
"J-Jiraiya-sama? What's going on? How come you two are back so early?" Sakura asked rhetorically before giving a quick sideways glance towards Naruto who was moving to his teacher's side. "What's wrong with Naruto?"
Chuckling weakly, the older man motioned for her to step closer. "I think it's best if you come see ol' Tsuande with us."
Jiraiya stroked his chin nervously in front of a large mahogany desk. The large breasted blonde in the seat opposite him leaned forward, tempting the white haired pervert to sneak a quick peek. "It's exactly as I said before. Naruto doesn't remember who Sakura is."
Sakura stood near the door, behind the duo that faced the Hokage. A cold feeling washed over her body and she could feel genuine shock. She hadn't expected things to be easy whenever Naruto came back, but she never expected anything like this!
There were many questions going through the young girl's mind, and before she could open her mouth to voice them, someone did the job for her.
"Naruto doesn't remember who Sakura is? What is the meaning of this?" Tsunade asked with a scowl on her face. At Jiraiya's request, she had her office sealed up tight. She had even planned on surprising Naruto by having Kakashi hide outside her window, but apparently Jiraiya wasn't in the mood for joking around. The silver haired jounin now stood inside the Hokage's office, leaning with his arms crossed against one of the walls, his distinguishing book out of sight.
"During our training journey, Naruto had learned to harness his other chakra," Jiraiya explained slowly, glancing behind him at the pink haired girl.
Sakura frowned. She wasn't aware that Naruto had a different set of chakra, although she had noticed that in times of dire need, he seemed to have the ability to push beyond his limits. She had merely chalked it up to his character. The green eyed girl glanced towards her teammate. Did he have a hidden bloodline or something?
"At first, I thought that it only healed me," Naruto said, demonstrating by cutting his hand with a kunai. Then, immediately a small wisp of smoke rose out of the rapidly healing wound. "But it actually destroys my body as well." Naruto demonstrated this by creating a rasengan with one hand, except this one was a fearsome crimson color. And indeed, the red chakra began burning the flesh off of his hand, and then immediately healing it again, creating an accelerated cycle of destruction and regeneration.
Tsunade frowned, immediately recognising the repercussions of such accelerated cellular regeneration. She herself had such a technique, so she knew that it would drastically cut into his lifespan if he kept on using it. "You do know what that entails, right?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, we know," Jiraiya sighed, knowing what Tsunade was getting at. "But that's not the biggest problem."
"There's more?" Tsunade's eyes narrowed. But she seemed to realise the answer as soon as she asked, and a heavy weight seemed to settle on her shoulders.
"It destroys and regenerates the cells in my brain also. My memory cells get destroyed and then get regenerated as a blank slate," Naruto said softly. "Every time I use this power, I lose more and more of my memories."
A thick silence surrounded the room and Sakura felt like she was suffocating. Continually losing his memories? It wasn't that Naruto was just acting odd; it was that he didn't know her at all! She felt something squeeze painfully inside her chest.
"Don't worry, I'll bring him back! Promise of a lifetime!"
Kakashi's voice cut through the silence. "So how much do you remember, Naruto?"
His voice was steady, calm. But there were no traces of his usual aloofness present. Sakura could see that his one visible eye was staring at Naruto with unwavering attention.
"I don't have amnesia, if that's what you're asking Kakashi-sensei," Naruto turned to him, a cheeky smile on his face. "At this point, most of my memories are intact. I remember most of the village, but I certainly don't remember your ugly mug being on the mountain when I left."
Naruto grinned audaciously at Tsunade, causing her to growl in irritation. Clearing his throat, Naruto started counting with his fingers. "I remember you – Kakashi-sensei, and 'baachan, Shikamaru, Chouji, Neji and most of the other rookies as well. There's this blonde girl with long hair that I have some memories of, but not enough for me to really know her anymore, y'know. Same with a guy that wears red face paint and always has this puppy following him around everywhere, and the creepy kid who can control bugs. Your assistant, 'baachan...I know she's your assistant, and I have some memories of her, but I don't remember her name or what she means to me. Same with a man that has a scar across his nose; I think about the few memories I have of him, and he feels important to me. But I don't know his name, what he does, I don't know anything about him.
"I only remember some of the missions I've been on, ero-sennin's told me I've been on more, and I know I have to have been on more. But I remember the chuunin exam, I remember Orochimaru."
Naruto's voice went tight, and he struggled getting through his next words. "I remember the Sandaime...Gaara. I remember Sasuke...the mission."
The blond stopped talking, his eyes looking everywhere but at the occupants of the room. Sakura wanted him to continue. Did he remember his promise to her? The one that tore her up with guilt every time she thought about it?
Did he remember anything about her? He seemed to remember so much, but how could he forget her? Didn't he have a crush on her, how could he forget something important like that?
Tsunade nodded as Naruto talked; most likely making a list of those things he forgot and needed to be reminded of. She glanced at Jiraiya, who had his eyes on his apprentice. She looked first at Kakashi, and then at Sakura – who looked like she could collapse at any point. She felt for her own apprentice, who had worked so hard over the past two years. Sakura had pushed herself past everyone's expectations of her and emerged a confident and strong ninja. But now, part of her motivation, her drive had disappeared, and there was nothing she could do about it, no matter how hard she tried.
Turning her attention back to Naruto, Tsunade looked up at the other blond. "And Sakura? Do you remember her at all?"
"Well," Naruto said, steadfast in his desire not to turn around, "Not entirely. I only have one memory of her left."
"What is it?" Sakura asked, blurting out her question before she could stop herself.
The pink haired girl could feel three pairs of eyes shift towards her, but she remained focused on the only ones that didn't, the only ones that mattered. She had to know.
Naruto turned slowly to meet her gaze, only to redden and look away, over her shoulder.
He blushed? When does Naruto ever blush like that? Sakura scowled. She hoped it wasn't anything perverted. But then again, she couldn't remember a situation they were in which would make Naruto act like that. But still, why couldn't he just tell her?
The sound of a throat clearing jerked Sakura's attention away from Naruto, and she glared at Jiraiya, who was looking away nonchalantly.
"Right," Tsunade started, "Well, I had originally planned to have you three, Kakashi, Sakura and you, Naruto, to form a team once you returned like you had been before you left. And even though there seems to be a new set of...circumstances to work around, I see no reason why this should change."
Tsunade stood up from her chair and went around her desk. "Obviously, you'll have to be re-acquainted with some of your comrades, as well as your teammate. So I hope that you'll take the initiative and get to know them, and fast. As soon as I can have you three working together as a unit and be ready for action, the better."
Sakura nodded, along with the rest of the former Team Seven. Tsunade made a shooing motion with her hands while asking Jiraiya to stay behind, and the three of them turned to leave. As Sakura stood outside the Hokage's office with Kakashi and Naruto, she couldn't help but think that everything would be different now, despite all appearances to the contrary.
"Well, it's been a while, hasn't it?" Kakashi asked the two. Sakura glanced over to Naruto, who had his attention on the jounin.
"As you heard, from now on you two will be with me on team related missions." Kakashi paused, "It's different than before. It's no longer teacher and pupil, but rather we'll be working together as equal Konoha ninjas.
"I am curious as to how you two have developed." Here, Kakashi shifted his attention to Naruto, "But before that, I need you to get used to working with Sakura again. You two will have to develop the bonds of teammates again. After that, I'll see if you two are ready."
His speech finished, Kakashi turned around as he fished out a book from his pouch. He walked towards the end of the hall, but paused and gave the two remaining teens a wave before disappearing in a swirl of leaves.
"So, Sakura," Naruto said, turning towards her. She was saddened when she didn't hear the usual 'Sakura-chan, Sakura-chan' that always seemed to be on the tip of his tongue.
Sakura felt a hand on her shoulder, and she followed the arm up to see that Naruto had leaned in close to her. The warmth from his palm and close proximity caused her stomach to flutter uncomfortably like it hadn't for quite some time. Not since Sasuke...
"I don't remember, but do you like ramen?"
Naruto soon learned that if she was given a choice, Sakura wouldn't choose ramen as the first thing to eat, but she didn't mind it all too much.
And Sakura learned that no matter what happened to him, Naruto's undying love for ramen would remain, perhaps for all eternity. She smiled to herself with that thought, and stared into her broth pensively, the few noodles remaining in her bowl hanging from her chopsticks. Throughout their cautious conversation over Ichiraku's finest, she had slowly come to realise that she had not known her teammate very well at all. Of course, due to his new situation, she realised that many aspects might be different. Still, she had not known that Naruto enjoyed red bean soup almost as much as ramen, nor did she know that he enjoyed gardening.
"I don't really have any memory of doing it before," He had said through a mouthful of noodles. Sakura cringed at the sight, and was dismayed to see his manners and etiquette while eating had not changed at all. "But, during the trip with ero-sennin we stayed at this place for a couple of weeks, and I took care of some of the plants. It was very relaxing and allowed me to concentrate and think."
Looking back on it, Sakura wondered if she was partly at fault for Naruto ending up like this. Had she pushed him too hard in her asking him to return Sasuke to her? But how had this happened anyway? What kind of chakra could do that to a human being? She had to do more research. If there was anything, anything that she could do for Naruto, she would do it, Sakura promised herself.
A hand on her shoulder shook her out of her thoughts, and Sakura looked up to see Naruto looking at her worriedly. Giving him a reassuring smile that she didn't think was all too convincing, she returned to her meal and their previous conversation.
It was night by the time they decided to leave, and the sounds of the usually busy street behind them was now home to only a few villagers moving quickly to return to their houses. Standing up from her seat, Sakura thanked both Teuchi and his daughter Ayame for a meal and turned towards the exit. She paused, and looked behind her and saw Naruto chatting happily with the two ramen makers. Her lips curved into a small smile at the thought that Naruto could still remain so cheerful and upbeat despite all that had happened. Seeing him wave goodbye, Sakura quickly diverted her gaze as Naruto came to a stop beside her and motioned for her to step through first.
Sakura ducked her head as the blond next to her raised one of the flaps, allowing her to pass. The duo paused outside the entrance of the ramen bar as an awkward silence descended upon them. She peered down towards the ground, not exactly sure of how to say her goodbye.
"I guess I uh, better get going," The blond rumbled softly.
Sakura's emerald eyes blinked as a hand was extended in front of her face. Sakura looked up, and she almost laughed at the sight of an uncomfortable blond with one of his hands extended, and the other scratching the back of his neck awkwardly.
Her moment of humour was short lived, however, as she realised how this must have looked to anyone who didn't know the two ninjas. To someone strolling past the two on the street, they would have looked like two strangers departing after meeting for the first time. Of course, Sakura knew, they had never been the best of friends. In fact, she found his presence in her earlier days to be quite an annoyance. But she knew that somewhere along their journey together as teammates, he had become a valuable friend – maybe one of her closer friends, if she had to be honest with herself. And their situation now both scared and saddened her immensely.
"It was nice to meet you, Haruno Sakura." Naruto spoke in a whisper, his voice cutting through her silence and thoughts like a squall.
Her mind was racing with a myriad of different thoughts. Was it confusion? Sadness? Or maybe a resigned acceptance? Whatever it was, Sakura gave a small smile, and grasped Naruto's hand, completing the handshake. Her eyes never leaving his cerulean blues.
"Likewise, Uzumaki Naruto."
Silence once again fell down upon the pair. The blond mumbled something incoherent before giving the Sakura's hand a friendly pat and turned away, towards his apartment. The pink haired teen gave him a sad, pretty smile as he walked away from her, their eyes never leaving each other's.
Sakura watched as the blond turned to go, and her heart jumped into her throat. There were just so many things that she wanted to say to him, that she never got the chance to mention while he was on his training journey. And now…and now, even though he was back, there never again would be. Sakura pursed her lips as her tongue was twisted with the so many…somethings that she just wanted to say.
The awkwardness of their departure in front of Ichiraku just seemed to drive home the point that Naruto, the one that used to annoy her, the one that constantly asked for dates …the one that grew on her as she got to know him better, the one that risked his life to save her from a monster, and the one that dropped everything on a whim because of a simple request from her…that Naruto was gone.
She watched the blond's retreating figure, and her mouth opened without her control, "Naruto…"
The blond paused, and Sakura watched as he peered at her over his shoulder. She opened her mouth to say something but found that nothing would leave. Tears welled up in her eyes as the emotions of the day finally reached her, and battered her like waves crashing upon the shore.
God, why was she crying now? She had worked so hard for three years to grow stronger, to become more than she used to be. But now, with his return to the village, she felt helpless again, so…insignificant. Had all that work been for nothing? Why couldn't she ever do anything for Naruto?
The silence between the two stretched longer, and Sakura still could not find anything to say, so she merely closed her mouth. Green eyes stared out at the dark sky over the blond's shoulder – her vision shimmering and wavering as she blinked back tears – before they moved to his face. She took in a weak, unsteady breath and felt as if she were getting swallowed by the earth itself before wiping her eyes as discretely as possible and looking at Naruto's face.
But there it was; that ever present smile, one that seemed to split his whole face, which Sakura had always associated with the blond ninja. Unexplainably, she felt herself smile through her tears. It seemed as if such a familiar sight had put all her troubles at ease, for the moment.
"Everything's going to be alright, Sakura," The blond yelled into the night. "Believe it!"
And she did.
The rain suddenly grew in intensity, and without warning it was as if sheets of water were falling from the sky. Sakura stopped near the training ground, before deciding to venture in. The umbrella she was holding shielded her from the unusual downpour Konoha was experiencing. She only hoped that the feeling she had in her chest was wrong and that the training ground would be empty. However, she turned the corner, and sure enough, it was occupied by a single figure. His usually shaggy blond hair matted to his head.
A person burst from the trees to the figure's right, while another rushed up through the ground on his left, and the blond barely had enough time to assess the situation before having to simultaneously duck and move backwards as two attacks went right over his head. The two attackers, having missed their initial attack, completed a spin while staying on the ground and rushed forward to meet their opposition.
The blond moved to his right as a punch passed his ear, before moving quickly to strike at the attacker's sternum with a palm thrust, only to be parried. The second attacker's leg came up swiftly, only to be blocked by the blond's left forearm.
Leaping back, the blond quickly brought his hands together in quick motions before slamming his palms together. A thin slice of air, nearly invisible to the eye flew fast towards his attackers.
His two attackers' eyes widened, and one jumped over the attack while the other didn't move fast enough. The blond didn't even glance at his success before jumping up to meet the remaining attacker in the air.
He moved to drive his knee into his opponent's stomach, but was blocked by a pair of hands. Moving quickly, the blond grabbed the attacker's two wrists together, effectively binding him for a short time, before quickly moving into the assailant's guard, grabbing onto the collar of his opponent's shirt and quickly threw him towards the ground below.
The man bounced once, before rolling back onto his feet, obviously disoriented and tiring quickly. The blond landed, and in the span of a second, closed the space between the two before slamming a ball of spinning chakra into the remaining opponent before a cloud of smoke clouded his vision.
Sakura watched as the blond remained standing for a short while, before a wide grin adorned his face, and he sat down onto the quickly softening field. He leaned back and allowed his two arms to support his frame before looking up into the falling precipitation coming from the darkened sky. The rain water had soaked him by now, and Sakura moved towards him now that he was done.
Standing over him, she looked down to see that he had his eyes closed, the cerulean blue hidden to the world. Her umbrella was now also shielding him from the rain.
"Sakura," the blond smiled, "What's up?"
"You shouldn't be training in the rain, Naruto" She admonished, though a hint of amusement was just barely perceptible. "You'll catch a cold."
"Eh," He waved her off, "I don't really get sick. I don't remember ever getting a cold in my life."
Her brows furrowed. Not that she didn't trust him, but Sakura found it hard to believe that he had never been sick in his life. Perhaps he had and had lost his memory of it?
"I find it hard to believe Naruto, now c'mon. Get up." She grasped his collar and pulled him up to his feet.
Gagging as his collar pressed into his throat uncomfortably, Naruto shot to his feet in front of her. Turning around he massaged his throat as Sakura lifted the umbrella to adjust to the blond's height.
"That was mean, Sakura," Naruto grumbled. Pausing, he then smiled at her deviously. Sakura instantly grew wary of the smile on his face. "Are you this rough with all the men in the village, or just me?"
It took a few seconds of Sakura to process Naruto's sentence. Her mind went through all the possibilities; surely he couldn't mean…that, could he? Glancing at his face and cheeky smile, Sakura felt her cheeks light up to a bright red and she gave a shout of annoyance at both her reaction and the teenage boy in front of her.
"Y-You idiot!" She pointed at him. The umbrella fell to the ground, its owner distracted with other things now. "You've only been back two months and you're already making these kinds of jokes!? And to think that I thought you had matured, and had become so strong! I- I-"
Spluttering, Sakura couldn't think of any words to describe her emotions.
Holding both hands out defensively, Naruto smiled weakly. "Whoa, Sakura, don't blow a blood vessel there. You really shouldn't be so stressed, thought you knew that since you're a medic and all that."
"Stressed!?" Sakura hoped that Naruto had learned to read her warning signs by now, because he was dangerously close. There was a moment's silence before he turned his back towards her and ran, laughing all the way. Slipping her hands into the pouch around her waist, Sakura slipped on a pair of black gloves quickly, the task made more difficult by her slick hands, and took off after him.
"You think you can run, Uzumaki?" She yelled after him. A loud bout of laughter was her only response, and she felt a grin break onto her face. Pumping more chakra into her legs, Sakura quickly closed the distance between the two. She could see Naruto quickly turn his head to check on where she was, before giving a large yelp at her unexpected closeness. So he wasn't even taking this seriously? Sakura flashed him a vicious grin before pouncing on him, leading with her fists. At that moment, however, Naruto had turned quickly to his left, before freezing at the sight of her – fist outstretched. The two collided, butting heads, and tumbled unceremoniously to the ground.
Sakura grit her teeth and closed both hands around her forehead, "You really are thick headed, aren't you?"
The blond below her gave a nervous chuckle, and she glanced down at him through her bangs and blushed. Their bodies were positioned in such a way that she was straddling his stomach. The moisture from the rain made both their clothes thin and clung to their skin. Sakura's face was only inches away from his, and she could see his cheeks were bright red. She could also feel the heat emanating from his sternum, and she was sure that Naruto in turn could feel her body heat from her legs and…
Sakura's face grew beet red at the thought, but she wanted nothing more than for Naruto to take her in his arms and kiss her. They could have at it right here on the training field and Sakura found that she didn't find the idea all too unappealing. Mortified at where her train of thought had lead her, Sakura quickly jumped to her feet and looked towards the village. How could she have such perverted thoughts? And about Naruto, no less. She was a proper kunoichi!
"Well," Sakura cleared her throat uncomfortably, "Yeah."
Glancing down, she noticed that Naruto had not moved, and kept his eyes glued to her form.
"Naruto?" Sakura questioned. Even though they had settled into a comfortable camaraderie over the past two months – and in her mind were better friends now than when he had first left – she'd still give him a good pounding for staring at her for so long. But it was weird to see him space out like he was doing now. Usually it only happened when he struggled to search out a memory he had either forgotten or only had vague wisps of. The reunion between the Konoha rookies, although raucous and full of fun at the end, had certainly been uncomfortable in the beginning to say the least.
Sakura couldn't stop the heat from rising to her cheeks, despite the biting cold from the rain. The intensity of Naruto's gaze reminded her of when he had first returned to the village. And some of the similar questions now re-surfaced. Just why was he looking at her like that? She knew that he used to have a crush on her in their earlier days as Team Seven, but he had lost all memories of her. So certainly, that couldn't be the case…right?
A gentle cough jerked Sakura away from her thoughts. Naruto stood to his feet, looking apologetic. "Sorry about that, Sakura."
Looking at his face, Sakura noticed that his cheeks were still coloured, though from the rain or something else she couldn't tell. Clearing her mind, she remembered her original purpose for seeking the blond out.
"It's okay. Just don't do it again," She glared at him. Noticing his grin, she couldn't help but smile back softly. He just didn't seem to change, and that was something that endeared him to her. "I was looking for you. It's time for lunch."
A wide smile split across Naruto's face. Since he'd been back, the two had had lunch twice every week, in an attempt to re-acquaint themselves with each other. However, Sakura found that she had begun to look forward to their so called lunch "dates". Their conversations and time spent together was always fun (even if Naruto was a bit of a perv sometimes), but the teasing from Ino was anything but. But despite everything, Sakura could honestly say to herself that their lunches were almost always the best parts of her week – especially three weeks ago after beating Kakashi in a re-run of the bell test.
"Right, lunch!" The blond yelled, enthusiastically raising his fist into the air. "You got to choose where we ate last time, so you know what that means?"
Naruto grinned at her suggestively, and Sakura gave him a tight smile in return. Of course she did.
Nodding for him to take the lead, Sakura studied his retreating back. Something had been bugging her ever since she saw him training alone. Jogging quickly to catch up with her teammate, she placed a hand on his arm for his attention.
"Why are you training so hard?"
Startled by her question, the blond stopped walking and turned to look at her. Shaking the moisture out of his hair with his hands, Naruto looked at her through his bangs. "Well, there are lots of reasons...but mostly if I'm going to get Sasuke back, I'm going to need to be stronger."
His matter-of-fact answer shocked her. Still? After everything that happened to him, he was still so concentrated on Sasuke?
Sakura shook her head to clear her thoughts and emotions. Must not lose control now. "Why...why do you need to get Sasuke back so badly?"
"Well," Naruto scratched his cheek awkwardly, "I...he used to be part of Team Seven, right? It's just not right that he's out there on his own."
She heard the hesitation in his voice, his explanation. "You're lying."
"W-What?" He stuttered.
Narrowing her eyes, Sakura steeled herself. "I said, you're lying."
The humour was gone from Naruto's eyes now. He looked at her with an unreadable expression and Sakura wondered if she was wrong to push so far.
"How would you know?" He asked her.
"Because," Sakura insisted, "I just...do. You should just give up on Sasuke-kun. He chose to run off. He chose to leave...us. Do you even remember Sasuke-kun? Do you even remember what he was like? What he was to you?"
Naruto looked away, but the intensity of his gaze was still just as strong. "Of course I do. I remember Sasuke. Just because I've forgotten some things doesn't mean I'm an idiot, Sakura. He was like a brother to me, like family.
"Maybe you've forgotten, Sakura," Naruto countered, his gaze returning to the girl in front of him. "Have you forgotten about Sasuke? What was he to you, Sakura? Was he a teammate, a friend? Maybe something more?"
Stunned by how fast the conversation had gone downhill, Sakura stammered, "N-No. Sasuke-kun was a good teammate! And he was the number one rookie in our class. He wasn't...he wasn't that important to me, so Naruto, you don-"
"Now you're lying."
Sakura hung her head, and looked away from Naruto's gaze, but she could still feel it on her body. The intensity, the strength of his stare...it was too much for her to see.
"I'll see you later, Sakura," And with that said, the blond turned around and disappeared in a whirlwind of air.
Gloomily, Sakura sunk to her knees on the muddy training field, wondering how it could have gone so wrong. She only hoped she would have a chance to apologise, and soon.
But when she saw Naruto on their next lunch, it was like their conversation had never happened.
"Don't lose concentration, Sakura!" The large breasted blonde woman barked at her apprentice.
Frowning, Sakura quickly finished her task – resuscitating a fish – before turning back to her master. Noticing the faint hint of approval in her gaze, Sakura ventured forward again. "Tsuande-shishou, I have a question."
Seeing the older woman nod as she moved forward to place the fish back in its tank, Sakura gathered up her courage. "I was just wondering...about what was mentioned a couple of months ago."
"Yes?" Tsunade waited for Sakura to continue. The Hokage turned around and began to gather a stack of paperwork that was behind her.
Don't lose it now, Sakura told herself. "What's Naruto's other chakra?"
She watched as Tsunade paused, before continuing to gather up the papers.
"How are you and Naruto working together now?" Tsunade asked, deliberately avoiding the question.
Rolling her eyes at her master's obvious attempted misdirection, Sakura continued with her questioning. "We're fine, shishou, probably better than we were before, but you should know from Kakashi-sensei's report. Now, what about Naruto's chakra?"
Finished organising, Tsunade headed towards the door, "Good, that's good Sakura. I think I might start sending you three out on miss-"
"Tsunade-shishou!" Sakura shouted.
The pink haired girl had seen The Legendary Sucker's temper in action, and she knew that the older blonde woman had a short fuse. The outburst from her master had honestly frightened her. The strength and command behind her voice made it apparent to Sakura just why she was the Hokage.
Seeing Sakura's look of distress on her face, Tsunade softened her tone. "Just...stop. I'm-I'm not the right person to ask. If Naruto feels that you should know, he will tell you."
Knowing that her master would not divulge anything more, Sakura hung her head.
"Although," Tsunade continued, and Sakura looked back up quickly. "I suppose that one could start looking at the events surrounding Naruto's birthday."
Giving her apprentice one more look, Tsunade left the room, dismissing Sakura for the rest of the day.
Naruto's...birthday? Sakura knew when that was, but what did it have to do with anything?
Thinking harder, Sakura tried to remember what had happened on Naruto's birthday. The Kyuubi attack! But how were the two events connected?
Sakura was so deep into her thoughts that she had lost track of time. Glancing quickly at the clock on the wall, she swore under her breath before making a dash out the door. She was late!
Hurtling from rooftop to rooftop, Sakura landed dustily in the middle of an already crowded street, startling an elder couple behind her. Apologising embarrassedly, Sakura quickly made her way into Ichiraku Ramen, a further set of apologies on her tongue only to find the stand empty. Of course! It was just like Naruto to be even later than her. Finding a seat on one of the many open stools, she looked blankly over the menu even though she knew what she was going to order. Looking behind the stand, Sakura noticed that only Teuchi was working.
Soon, however, Ayame made her way to the front, carrying with her a large bundle of noodles. Noticing Sakura sitting by herself, the older girl greeted the kunoichi with a friendly smile.
"Ah, Sakura-san, hello. Looking for Naruto?"
Nodding, Sakura glanced behind her, "Yeah I am, Ayame-san. I can't believe he's even later than me."
"Oh no," Ayame laughed, "He came in earlier and ate already, although he looked really distracted. I think he mentioned going back to his apartment."
Sakura frowned in annoyance, how could he eat and leave without even waiting for her? She wasn't that late anyway! Thanking Ayame quickly, Sakura turned to exit the stand and took off in the direction of Naruto's apartment.
Landing just outside his door, she raised her hands and knocked heavily. "Naruto!"
She heard a quick shuffle of footsteps draw near, and the blond opened the door. "Oh, Sakura, what're you doing here?"
"What I am doing here?" Sakura asked in disbelief. "We were supposed to have lunch, how could you forget? We have lunch every week on this day!"
Grimacing, Naruto shrugged apologetically and smiled at her, "Sorry...I've been distracted, that's all."
Any response Sakura was about to form died on her lips. She took in Naruto's face, and was surprised to see a sad smile adorning it. She had never seen anything so heartbreaking.
"...Naruto, what's wrong?"
He opened his mouth, but closed it without making a sound. Looking at her with his blue eyes, Sakura could feel her heart constrict painfully at the sight of the usually cheerful boy so downtrodden.
"I saw Iruka today...finally."
Sakura looked away, she knew where this was going.
"I've been gone for two years, and I've been back in the village for three months," Naruto sighed, "And I still haven't seen him. I don't know if I was doing it subconsciously or not...but I've been avoiding him, avoiding the conversation we'd have to have. I know he's important to me, I know it...but I can't bring myself to remember why, there's just. no. memory. of. it. There's nothing there!"
Sakura didn't know what to do, so she remained standing outside Naruto's door and waited for him to continue.
"I want to remember him so much. In the few memories I have of him, he's always looking at me...so fondly. He cares for me, I know it. I mean something to him...maybe a lot. And I tried, you know? I tried so hard these last three months...just to remember anything about him, anything at all. I knew...I knew me not remembering would hurt him. But today...today..."
Sakura looked at him, she wanted him to continue. She needed him to continue, and he needed himself to continue. "Today?" She urged him.
"Today, when I told him...he looked so disappointed. I could see it in his eyes, and I couldn't look away. He looked devastated...and there was nothing I could do. With all this stupid power I have...there was nothing I could do to help him. But he just smiled at me after I finished...told me it was okay...that it was alright that I couldn't remember him...that I cou-"
Naruto's voice cracked, and Sakura could feel her heart doing the same. She never wanted Naruto to look so vulnerable, so sad, ever again. It didn't suit his nature and it pained her to see him so helpless. Her heartstrings tugged uncomfortably in every direction as she saw moisture collect in the blond's blue eyes.
Stepping forward, she gathered him in her arms and laid her head against his shoulder. She pressed her lips into the soft material of his shirt as she felt his head drop onto her shoulder and his arms engulf her. Her hand ran softly over his heaving back. This time, it would be the other way around. This time, she would be strong for him. She wouldn't fail, couldn't fail...not for him. Not ever when it came to him.
Entwined, the two collapsed onto the floor.
Not getting a response, Sakura moved closer to the teen. The view before her made her pause, and wonder why she didn't spend more time up here, on top of the Hokage Monument.
"I thought you might be up here," Sakura continued in his silence. "You said before you liked to come here to watch the sunsets."
Turning at her statement, Naruto gave her a smile that caused her stomach to squeeze and twist uncomfortably.
"You remembered," He whispered.
"Of course I did," She snorted in reply, "What kind of friend would I be if I forgot?"
Taking a seat next to him, with her arms wrapped around her bent knees and chin resting on them, Sakura stared silently out at the village below as the blond next to her returned to doing the same. As the teenage girl turned to look at her teammate, she was silent as she took in the sight of the fading sun's light glinting off his forehead protector and deep blue eyes. The content smile on his face entranced her. And when he closed said eyes to take a deep breath, her cheeks flushed from a feeling that was all too familiar with her from the days when she had stalked after a raven haired prodigy. The butterflies, the flip-flops…she knew these all too well. But this time they were different, they were...perhaps more profound.
Sakura scowled as she turned away, confused and irritated by what she was feeling for the blond haired ninja. This was unexpected, but had been recurring for the past few months, ever since that day in the doorway of his apartment. He had been so vulnerable then, so lost…
"That was some mission, wasn't it?"
Reflecting back on the events they had gone through, Sakura could only nod her head softly. The Akatsuki, Gaara's apparent death…Chiyo…
"That old lady…she was something, bringing Gaara back and all." Naruto continued.
Clearing her throat, because it had just gotten so thick, Chiyo-sama…Sakura turned, "Naruto, I-"
"The Kyuubi's my other chakra."
Sakura could only stare at the blond, who refused to meet her gaze.
"That's my other chakra," Naruto said, his blue eyes gazing forlornly at the sunset. "You were asking 'baachan, right? You know it's sealed inside me, but not how. On my birthday, the Kyuubi attacked. They said that the Yondaime had defeated it, sacrificing himself in the process…but the Kyuubi can't be killed, it's too strong. Instead, he sealed it inside a single baby."
Turning to look into her green eyes, Naruto's voice was but a whisper. "Inside me."
Sakura thought back to her childhood, and how difficult it must have been for Naruto as a child to go through what he had to. The neglect…the loneliness, and she couldn't help but feel guilty at having contributed to that.
"You don't have to say anything," Naruto persisted, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier. But if you really think about it, I've only known you for six months…who knows? And I can understand that it must be hard to hear this…that your teammate has a monster sealed inside his stomach…so if you nee-"
As the blond continued to ramble on, Sakura moved closer to him. She shuffled herself so that her hip came into contact with his, effectively cutting him off. Silently, with her arms still wrapped around her knees, she leaned to her left and laid her head against his shoulder. She didn't dare look up to see Naruto's reaction, but she could imagine that his face would be as red as the sky now, hers certainly was. She could feel her heart beating quicker, and it felt as if her stomach had dropped out from underneath her. But through it all, it was nice…it was peaceful. Sakura closed her eyes as silence descended upon the pair.
She felt Naruto shift, and she tensed as his arm wrapped around her shoulder, before relaxing again. Her eyes still closed, she could hear him breath, softly yet quick at the same time. She thought she could hear his heartbeat, ever steady and strong. Yes, it was nice…it was…beautiful.
"Do you want to know what I remembered about you?"
Opening her eyes again, she squinted as the sun began to sink into the horizon. She didn't look at him, didn't dare move from this position. "Yes."
He chuckled, and Sakura liked the sound of the low rumble coming from his throat, with her ear pressed against his shoulder.
"I figured you might, since you asked me that day in 'baachan's office."
She nodded, and she hoped he could feel it through his clothing.
"Well," Naruto confided, "I didn't wanted to tell you, at first, and even after. But during the fight with that blond Akatsuki guy, I used some of the Kyuubi's chakra."
Sakura felt her muscles tense.
"Hehe, don't worry about it too much," Naruto reassured her, "I don't think I've forgotten anything important…well, not that I would know."
Naruto gave a bark of a laugh, and Sakura heard the blond exhale quickly as she jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. "That's not funny."
Laughing weakly, Naruto conceded. "Alright, so it wasn't that funny, but still true. Anyway, so I used some of the Kyuubi's chakra, so I don't know when I might lose that memory, and with this next mission coming up…it's an important memory, so I don't want to lose it forever."
The pink haired teenager lifted her head off his shoulder and turned her body so that she could face the blond. Shifting so that she was resting on her knees and biting her lip in anticipation, she waited for Naruto to continue.
"Even though I only had one memory left of you, I think…I think it was the most important one that I had left." Naruto turned so that he could face Sakura as well. She was taken aback by the poignant expression on the boy's face. "I don't remember much about the surroundings, except that it's during the day. I think the sun is out, and there might be a breeze blowing by or something like that. What I do remember clearly though, is you…though your hair is much longer. You're standing there, facing me…and I'm by the village gates. But, you just look so…sad."
A cold feeling of dread swept through Sakura's body, and she remained frozen, unable to speak.
"You're speaking, Sakura," Naruto spoke again, licking his lips. "I can never hear what you're saying, but I know it's important, I can see it on your face. It's like you're pouring your heart out to me. But what you're saying is painful to you, I think…there's so much sadness in your eyes that I couldn't bring myself to remember you, or who I didn't know was you."
Of all things, why did it have to be the promise? Why couldn't he remember something else? Anything else.
"What I did know though, Sakura…was that I didn't ever want to see that girl look so sad anymore. I promised myself that when I got back to the village, I would find the pink haired girl, and I would do anything in my power to make her happy again. I told myself that every time I thought of you, nearly every day."
Sakura could feel her heart crumbling into many tiny pieces.
"And slowly, day by day…the more I focused on my goal, and the more I thought of that pink haired girl…the more I fell in love with her. Pretty silly, isn't it? Falling in love with a memory of a girl you can't even remember. But I guess I'm the kind of guy to do something like that."
The pink haired medical-nin could only shake her head as the moisture started to collect in the corners of her eyes. She mustn't cry now. Not now, please not now.
But Naruto carried on, seemingly oblivious to the state his teammate was in. "But when I got back, and the first time I laid my eyes on you. I knew it wasn't silly…it wasn't foolish. You were everything that I remembered and more. You were strong, kind, beautiful. You had a fire in your eyes that I couldn't get enough of. At times you're too emotional, and you hit me way too hard. But for all your flaws, you are just…perfect."
No I'm not. How can you think that about me? I'm not, Naruto…I'm sorrysorrysorrysorr-
Sakura felt a calloused palm run across her cheek, and she looked up from the crumbly dirt of the mountainside to meet Naruto's eyes. Unconsciously, she leaned into his touch, her tears finally falling from her eyes.
Naruto chuckled, "And you cry way too much."
She saw him moving in, and closed her eyes in response. His thumb played with the wisps of hair above her ear, and he pressed his lips to hers slowly and gently.
Sakura couldn't help but be a little disappointed at first. There weren't any fireworks like the books described, or any electricity like Ino had told her there was. Time didn't slow down, and she didn't hear any music off in the distance. Naruto's lips were chapped, and she couldn't imagine hers being any better. The dry mountain air whipped at her hair, and strands of his shaggy blond tickled at her closed eyelids. She didn't know what to do with her hands so she kept them on her knees. It ended entirely too soon as Naruto pulled back.
But despite all that, as Sakura gazed into Naruto's expression of delight, she couldn't help but think that it was heaven.
"So yeah," Naruto said, the look of happiness still on his face, "I love you."
"I," Sakura began. She wanted to say it back. She wanted to say it so much. Because some part of her probably did love him, despite her mixed feelings for their missing teammate. Because if she didn't it would crush him, and she couldn't do that. Not anymore. "I was lying."
Naruto arched his eyebrow, "Er, what?"
She wanted to run, needed to run, but her legs wouldn't listen to her – they were like jelly. Closing her eyes, she had no choice but to continue. "The other time, months ago, in the training field…I said that Sasuke-kun wasn't that important to me…he is. Important to me, that is. I have…or had, feelings for him. Strong ones…maybe I loved him, I don't know…"
If Sakura hadn't shut her eyes, if she had looked, she would have found Naruto sitting there with a pained, but knowing, smile. But she couldn't help it, she couldn't possibly look at him now, not when she was crushing him.
Again, all the time. Why did she do this to him all the time. She cared for him, she did, but why? Whywhywhy.
"But Naruto!" She exclaimed, biting out her words, forcing herself to continue. She willed herself to open her eyes, to look at him. Really look at him.
"When you came back, I thought I had lost you. I thought I had lost another one of my teammates. But over these last six months I learned that despite everything, Naruto…you stay the same. You persevere through any hardship you face, and you don't lose yourself to the ugliness of the world. That's something I've come to realise that I can't live without. When you came back you were still…you. You were still everything that made me believe in myself...that made me want to become stronger..."
The medical-nin nearly gasped as everything became startlingly clear to her, "...and Naruto, I do. I've been so stupid not to see it all this time, but really, I do! Naruto, I lo-"
Sakura found herself unable to speak as her lips were caught in Naruto's again. She closed her eyes and pressed back this time. Her head was dizzy with so many emotions it was hard to think. Believe me...believe me.
When he parted, Sakura saw only a heartbreaking smile on his face. Clearing his throat, he stood up. "Don't say something you might not mean, Sakura…chan."
She opened her mouth to protest, but the look on Naruto's face stopped her. He shook his head at her, smiling all the while, "It's alright, Sakura-chan. You don't have to say anything now, or ever. I love you, I really do, and that's enough for me. Maybe once you figure it all out, okay?"
He turned to leave, and Sakura could do nothing but stare as he made his way down the dusty path. She watched as he jerked his body, like he forgot something, before turning around and opening his mouth to shout at her.
"I know what you were saying in my memory, by the way. I know you asked me to bring Sasuke back, I asked Shikamaru about it since he mentioned he was there and all. So yeah, I was lying too, that day! Because as much as I want him back for myself...I meant what I said earlier, I'll do anything to keep you from being sad again. So don't worry. Tomorrow, when we go meet with Sasori's spy and find out where Orochimaru and Sasuke are. I'll drag him back with us for sure. That's a promise of a lifetime!"
Giving her one last wave, he turned and disappeared from her view.
Sakura clutched her arms to her side, and couldn't stop the tears from falling.
An object smashed into the ground to the right of the bridge behind them, and Sakura whirled around before shielding her eyes from the impending dust that swept out from the impact zone. She stared, transfixed, as the dust cleared to review a red coated monster with four tails.
"…Naruto…" She whispered, unable to do anything but. She had never seen him really utilize the Kyuubi's chakra, and was shocked by his appearance. The blood red coating over his body made it hard for Sakura to truly distinguish if what surrounded the usually cheerful blond's body was the Kyuubi's chakra or his own blood. Four tails whipped wildly behind him, and a long blade that seemed endless looked as if it had pierced him in the stomach.
"NARUTO!" She yelled. She wanted to move, needed to move to him, needed to get where he was. She started to gather the strength in her legs, to stop them from collapsing underneath her because the sight of Naruto, the ever smiling, upbeat, happy Naruto, her Naruto was not right.
She was stilled, however, by Yamato's hand on her shoulder. Turning and preparing to punch him off, Sakura was stopped however by a low growl that emitted from the red beast. She felt, rather than saw the massive swing of his arms that tossed the seemingly too thin blade away. She felt Yamato's arms encircle her as he leaped from the bridge to a safer location. She felt her feet touching the ground, but could not feel her legs as she feel to her knees. The pain in her chest was just too much, the pressure there…too tight. Her heart was constricting and she found it difficult to breath. She just wanted to cry.
"And you cry way too much."
"Take a look at that," She heard Kabuto say, and Sakura just wanted to punch the – what she couldn't see, but was sure it was there – smirk off his face. "Willing to become like that, just to rescue Sasuke-kun."
The creature gave a large, defiant roar, and Sakura felt ice cold in the pit of her stomach.
"I'll definitely bring back Sasuke. That's a promise of a lifetime!"
Sakura could only stare helplessly at her teammate.
"I will never break my promise. I never go back on my word, that's my way of the ninja."
Two and a half years of guilt and shame crashed upon her with a force that would have brought her to her knees if she weren't already on them.
"And the more I thought of that pink haired girl, the more I fell in love with her."
"So yeah, I love you."
"It's alright, Sakura-chan. You don't have to say anything now, or ever. Maybe when you figure it all out, okay?"
It was an unearthly experience for Sakura.
She couldn't hear what Kabuto was muttering about, couldn't hear the shouts from Yamato for her to stop, or even the roar of the beast in front of her. All she could do was feel. She felt her muscles whine as she sprinted towards Naruto, she felt her tears streaming down her cheeks, falling even before she started running. She felt her heart breaking at the thought of Naruto losing so much of himself, his humanity and eventually, his memories, for her. She felt her chest tightening at the thought that Naruto might not ever know that she loved him, that his Sakura-chan loved him…him! He, who always gave so much to her, without ever asking for anything back.
"NARUTO!" She felt her throat tighten as she struggled to get words through the tears and her heaving lungs, "Eno…enough already! I love you! Did you hear that? I love you! So forget about Sasuke, I...it's never been him! So...so you don't have to-"
Sakura felt herself hit the ground hard, and quickly a sharp, unbearable pain lanced through her left arm. All the emotions, adrenaline and now the pain, left her drained, and she could feel herself losing consciousness as she stared at the beast being restrained by winding columns of wood. She heard voices behind her as she watched the beast try to struggle to break free from its restraints. She felt the cooling touch of healing chakra on her left arm, and slowly, the pain faded away to a comfortable numbness.
Pushing herself up weakly, Sakura watched as Yamato restrained the beast and used a technique that reversed Naruto's transformation. Slowly, she watched as the blood red chakra coating regressed and more of Naruto's body could be seen. The coating seemed to be retreating back to the front of his stomach. As Naruto's face came into visibility, Sakura let go of a breath she didn't know she was holding. She moved forward as the last of the coating vanished, and Naruto seemed to teeter on his feet before falling backwards. Catching him as softly as possible, Sakura steadied her hold on him before laying him on the floor gently. His body was covered in burns, and she ran her hand lightly over his scarred cheek. Sakura steadied her emotions before placing her hands on Naruto's chest, her hands glowing green from her chakra. She heard Yamato rest himself on his knees beside her, looking over Naruto's condition. Her wound on her left arm was still bothering her, however, and Sakura had to steady herself and bite her lip through the pain.
"Yamato-taichou," She spoke softly, "The technique you just stopped Naruto with…that technique, could you teach it to me?"
The older man had a sad look in his eyes, "That's impossible."
Sakura's heart fell.
"In Konoha, I'm the only one who can use it, because I was compatible with the Shodai-sama's cells."
The pink haired girl stared steadfastly at Naruto's slowly healing wounds, her mind racing and emotions whirling inside of her. "It's always like this…"
Yamato stared at her questioningly from the side.
"The only things I can do for Naruto are so small…" She smiled sadly at her situation.
"With all this stupid power I have...there was nothing I could do to help him."
"It's not a problem of small or big," Yamato said. Sakura jerked, not really expecting a reply. "What's important is the strength of the feelings you have for Naruto."
Finished with her healing, Sakura turned her attention to Yamato. Did he hear?
"You love him, don't you?" He asked, "It's obvious just looking at you, but when I heard you say it...Sakura-"
A groan from Naruto cut off whatever he was about to say. Sakura turned her attention back to the blond laying on his back. She watched as he fluttered his eyes open, before closing them again due to brightness. She could feel her emotions wind high. Would he remember her? His feelings for her? His love for her?
Sakura needed him to remember her. After everything they had gone through, for him to forget her now would be devastating. But if he did...if he did forget then she would persevere, like Naruto would. She would help him remember, she would help him remember his love for her, and she would love him in return, every step of the way. She wouldn't ever give up, because that was her ninja way.
Naruto's eyelids opened again, and his blue eyes looked around before settling on Sakura and sharpening.
This is it. Sakura gathered up her courage and fought against the tears that welled up in the corners of her eyes.
"...Naruto?" She whispered hopefully.
She watched silently as he tiredly propped himself up on his elbows, before rubbing his neck in irritation.
Sakura couldn't fight off the brilliant smile that grew on her face even if she had wanted to. She could barely speak as the tears fell from her face and her throat swelled with emotion.
"...love you." She managed to choke out.
Grinning, Naruto tiredly took her hand and kissed her forehead, before pulling her into a hug.
"It's about time," He whispered into her ear
Somehow, her fist managed to find its way to his ribs.
AN: The idea for this one-shot came from DigiFruit on the Heaven & Earth forum. The simple premise was "Naruto and Jiraiya return to Konoha after their training journey, but Sakura has somehow been wiped from Naruto's memory". I was hooked into the potential the idea held, and he graciously let me take a shot at it. Hopefully I did it justice and made it an enjoyable read.
I've never written a story completely from just one perspective, let alone a female's like I did in this one with Sakura, so that was a bit of a challenge. Simple reason for this being that I wanted the readers to only know what Sakura knew, to (hopefully) feel was she felt in the certain situations. This is also the first time I've written a get-together piece. I think I got most of the emotions right.
Any comments or feedback highly appreciated!
Thanks, and til next time.