A/N - Originally posted on AO3. Still getting used to the way things work here, so forgive me for any odd mistakes while struggling to upload. As the summary would hint, this is a NaruSaku-centered story. If you do not approve of it, this may not be the story for you. As for everyone else, hope you enjoy.

Disclaimer - I don't own the setting or characters.

"You wanted to see me, Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura Haruno stepped outside to greet her teacher, Kakashi Hatake, in front of Konoha's hospital. Being informed by a nurse that he wanted to speak with her had not brought much cause for alarm, but to greet him with his back turned felt strange and somewhat discomforting.

It had been three days since the war had come to a decisive end. Against all odds Team 7 had managed to overcome adversity, and for the first time in so long they were managing to smile in the presence of one another. Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha both were tucked in beds just a few feet apart from each other and were meant to be resting, but Naruto's stamina was unrelenting. A couple hard smacks to the head had gotten him to lay back down, but time and time again he had sat back up. At first she believed it was just in his nature to disobey the orders of someone more than qualified to oversee his recovery. Instead she began to consider another possibility. The days of Team Seven were minimal, and the best times they had together were often her disapproving scowl at something Naruto said or did while Sasuke handled his idiocy with the abrasive responses he always seemed to have lined up in his head. Unlike before though, they were all managing to smile about the past they shared and looked to a better future together.

Kakashi had been busy since they had returned to the village. Sakura had discovered that not only was he intending to become Hokage and help pave the way for Naruto's rise to the role, but Lady Tsunade had no issue stepping down. As Sakura and her teammates laughed and reminisced with one another, Tsunade had assured her that she could manage to create prosthetic arms without her assistance. Sakura remembered how much she protested, and Lady Tsunade's only request for her was to enjoy herself after the harsh experiences she faced during war. To laugh with Team 7 again and to be genuinely happy was something Tsunade wanted for her, and when it was put that way there was no more use arguing. With a thanks and a hug between master and student, Sakura left Lady Tsunade to handle it, but not before making her promise to reach out if she needed help.

It went without saying that Sakura Haruno was, for the first time in quite a while, happy with the state of the world and everyone in it.

"Sakura," Kakashi spoke up, turning around to face her, "How are you?" His attire hadn't changed much. All that was really different was that he had both eyes on him, and no need for his forehead protector to shield one. The biggest difference wasn't his new eye, but his attitude.

Sakura could determine almost immediately that Kakashi was troubled by something. Ever since Naruto managed to restore his eye, reading her teacher had never been easier. His hands were tucked in his pockets in a typical Kakashi fashion, but the way his head hung slightly was telling her a different story. Ever since they had gotten back and Kakashi had voiced his interest in becoming Hokage to the council, they had seen little of him in the last few days. Something had happened, and it was enough for the illusion of things being okay to be completely broken. The Copy Ninja was hiding something from her.

"I'm doing well, so are Naruto and Sasuke-kun. We've missed you, you know." Sakura approached him, stopping directly in front of Kakashi with a comfortable arms-length between them. "Naruto suggested we try another bell exercise together now that Sasuke-kun's back. He really wants us to work together again, this time without the fate of the world on our shoulders."

Kakashi's expression softened, much to Sakura's relief. Remembering them as Team 7 often brought pleasant emotions among everyone, and Kakashi was no different from them. The softened expression returned to one that was bordering on crestfallen.

"Kakashi-sensei, what's the matter? I was hoping one of these days you'd just show up outside our window with a book in hand, but even I can tell that you're not your usual self." Sakura pointed out, concerned for Kakashi's state of mind. With so much accomplished and the world saved, it looked as though Kakashi's spirits seemed to worsen after the war. "Could it be about Obito?"

Kakashi held up a hand and shook his head, not intending for Sakura to turn this into a guessing game. It was true, something was on his mind and it was something terrible for not just him, but Team 7 as well. "I'd like you to go on a short walk with me, if that's okay with you?"

"Uh, yeah, no problem. Let me just run inside and—"

"It won't take long, Sakura. You'll be right back." Kakashi reassured her, leaving Sakura to nod in understanding. However uncertain she might be about his behavior, Sakura trusted that whatever he brought her out here to discuss was of the utmost importance. Following Kakashi's lead, the pair of them began a silent and short journey through Konoha. After several minutes of silence had passed, Kakashi had stopped just beneath the Hokage Monument, looking off towards the space where his face was meant to be placed. The vote was unanimous; Kakashi was qualified for the position, and even had the blessing of Tsunade to assume it. Sakura had expected him to be a little excited about it, but everything about Kakashi's attitude suggested he lost in the running somehow.

"Sensei …?" Sakura quietly muttered, hoping he'd start explaining. She hoped that Naruto and Sasuke both weren't having too much fun without her, and she'd like to get back to them and enjoy their time together once again.

"Right," Kakashi glanced at Sakura just to his left before turning his body around entirely to face her, "I have a mission for you. It's completely off the record, and only a certain handful of people are to know about this. Out of a very short list of kunoichi, you were ultimately decided as the best choice."

Sakura's first instinct was to be flattered – being chosen for an assignment like this sounded pretty important, and she couldn't help but smile at this reveal. "That's all you wanted to tell me? Kakashi-sensei, you have no idea how worried you were making me." She was fit for anything Kakashi could possibly have in store for her, and drove her right fist into her left hand to prove how eager she was. "I can handle anything you send my way. What's the assignment?"

Her confidence did no favors for her. Kakashi only seemed to be more withdrawn upon hearing it, and Sakura's shoulders sank just as her expression did. The body language was doing much of the talking and it was becoming clear that this mission wasn't one to be thrilled about. It couldn't have been as dangerous as what they all faced together merely days ago. Did he doubt her abilities, even after everything she had done?

"Sensei," Sakura's voice grew tense and impatient, "I'm positive can handle it. If you're concerned that it's too soon for me to get back out there, then I promise you—"

"Sasuke Uchiha," Kakashi said quietly the name they both knew all too well, "Sasuke Uchiha is the subject, and keeping him affiliated with the Leaf Village is the mission."

"Did you pack your toothbrush?"



"Yes, Mama."

"Good, and what about your—"

"My books are packed, too. I can pack my own bag properly, Mama." Sarada Uchiha was quick to explain to her mother, walking side by side to her grandparents' house. It was bad enough that her day at the academy was filled with disappointment, but to have her own mother question her ability to do something as simple as prepare a bag for a weekend with grandma and grandpa was too tedious for her to bear. So much worrying for so little; it was hard to believe that her mother was a legendary kunoichi with how much she worried about things like this. "I'm not going to keep losing to Shikadai either, he keeps completing the tests faster than I do," Admitting inferiority was never easy for the daughter of Sasuke Uchiha, so she was quick to add: "But not by much!"

Sakura Haruno, hero of the 4th Great Ninja War and successor of the legendary medical kunoichi Princess Tsunade, looked down at her daughter with pride. Having become a full-time mother as well as becoming both the head of medical staff at the hospital and the Medic Corps subdivision, it went without saying that her days of being carefree were long behind her. People from around the Land of Fire and beyond had come to meet with her and learn the art of medicine and medical ninjutsu. Hosting lectures and offering lessons to those willing was a part of her duty now, and with the knowledge she had it was only right that she pass it on to those willing to learn it, just as Tsunade had. The pressure of running it had paled in comparison to motherhood, and while Sarada was a genius in her class, she did have a problem with socializing.

Her father could be thanked for that.

"It sounds like you have a rival. His dad was a genius too, but he had a problem with applying himself. They're quite alike." Sakura mused at the thought, "And he's not the only one that didn't fall too far from the tree. Are you and Bolt still-"

"Tch!" Sarada scoffed at the mention of Bolt Uzumaki, the son of Naruto Uzumaki: Jinchuuriki, Hero of the 4th Great Ninja War, and her mother's old teammate.

"I know he might be a little reckless sweetheart, but I'm sure if you two talked to one another you might find things you have in common." Sakura gently attempted to persuade her daughter. Forming friendships was difficult for her daughter, and in spite of her intelligence she never really mentioned any friends. As long as she had good scores and a perfect attendance, Sarada was always content with herself.

"We only have one thing in common, and it's not like I want to talk about it with someone like him." Sarada's tone didn't reflect amusement, and it never really had when it came to Bolt's antics.

"Okay, okay, let's forget I brought it up for now. You're going to be good for your grandma and grandpa, right?" Sakura asked as they began to approach the home she had grew up in. Mebuki and Kizashi Haruno didn't find it necessary to move; the home was in a nice location and it wasn't like they were too far from their precious granddaughter.

"Yes, I'm always good, you don't need to worry so much." Sarada turned to her mother for one last parting hug, embracing her quietly. Sakura returned it without hesitation and rubbed her daughters back tenderly.

"A mother can't help but worry about her child. I'll come back on Sunday, give your grandmother and grandfather a hug for me."

"You can just come in yourself, can't you?"

"I would, but I'm already running a little late. Have fun." Truth be told, the last thing Sakura wanted to hear was her mother asking question after question about Sarada's health and well-being. Was Sarada eating healthy? Was she in bed promptly before 9 o' clock? These were all questions Sakura could have gone without. As Sarada turned to head up the stairway leading to her grandparent's house, she suddenly froze and looked over her shoulder to meet Sakura's eyes with her own.

"Will Papa be back soon?" The young Uchiha asked with hope, but a tone so low it was as if she already knew the answer: She didn't know. Sarada turned back around and continued to ascend up the stairs, stopping at the front door and knocking three times before stepping inside to announce her arrival to her eagerly awaiting grandparents.

Turning around and heading for her next destination, Sakura quietly pondered Sasuke's whereabouts. His frequent journeys had taken its toll on her. She didn't blame him for the discomfort he felt remaining in the village after what had been done to his clan. All she had asked of him, time and time again, was to bear it for Sarada's sake. When he did manage to stay for more than a couple weeks at a time, he was always close to Sarada and listened intently to her as she bragged about her test scores and how much attention she was getting from her teacher. Shino Aburame had expressed how intelligent Sarada was and how she was promptly in her seat each morning. Maintaining the responsibilities she did took some serious energy, but as long as her daughter was performing well she could handle the long hours with a smile.

The stress of work aside, a weekend like this, without Sarada's presence, would normally mean a weekend she and her husband could share together. She wanted things to become normal for them, even knowing that after what Sasuke had been through it was impossible. Time may have passed, but the scars could never fully heal. It wasn't in her power to cure what was a part of him now. She had learned to endure the loneliness she felt at times without her husband home, Sarada was being forced to do the same as her father's daughter.

Her destination wasn't far. Reaching the restaurant in a few short minutes, Sakura was nearly overwhelmed by the mouth-watering scent of barbecued meat all around her. Her eyes scanned the restaurant, and the waving of a familiar hand had attracted her before the combination of blonde and brown hair did.

"Sakura, over here!" Ino Yamanaka waved her over, already seated beside TenTen. The two kunoichi had been seated in a booth together comfortably, and already meat was grilled in front of them. Sakura smiled and took a deep breath before making an approach to her long-time friends. Sarada was with her grandparents and excelling in school. Sasuke was out traveling again and could be on his way home as she stood. She'd be nothing but positive today, especially when she rarely had time to spend with her friends these days.

"Ino, TenTen, hey!" Sakura greeted the two, moving to the far end of the restaurant and taking a seat across from them. With good company and a good meal, she believed there'd be no problem in making this a relaxing experience. They never had time to get together anymore. "Sorry I'm a little late, I was dropping Sarada off. How have things been with you two? It feels like it's been forever since we've had time to sit down and talk."

"Because it has been forever, at least a couple months, but who's keeping track?" Ino shrugged her shoulders, smiling. "Do you know how hard it is to find a schedule that can work for us?"

"I'd imagine pretty hard considering how much overtime I put in, and with TenTen's shop—" Sakura's gaze moved to the weapon specialist, noticing her expression changed from one of genuine happiness to one of comical depression. "Err, I …guess things still haven't been going so great?"

"About as well as you'd expect. Peace is nice and all, but it's hard to make a living selling ninja tools when there's less need for ninja. I'm barely making ends meet here." TenTen explained with a low-spirited tone of voice that told Ino and Sakura all they needed to know. They were aware of TenTen's struggles, but continued to encourage her nonetheless. It wasn't like she intended to give up.

"Hey, it'll get better, I'm sure of it. I'll even help promote you at my shop, how's that?" Ino offered with optimism.

"Why would a flower shop promote the sale of weapons, Ino?" TenTen questioned, reasonably skeptical.

"W-well, uh …" When it was put that way, Ino couldn't argue whatsoever. It wasn't like someone browsing flowers really had much need for weaponry. It would be a rare coincidence at best. The Yamanaka glanced at Sakura and motioned for a little aid, as it was sorely needed. "Sakura might have an idea, right?"

"The academy is still training ninja, you could ask to speak with the class and let them see the various tools you sell." Sakura offered.

TenTen considered this for just a moment. Ninja Tools were her trade, and there was no one in the village who knew them better than her. "You know, that's not a bad idea. Maybe if I offer some lessons on proper tool care and training, I could get more business among the upcoming genin and their parents could get them some sets as a gift!" The brown-haired kunoichi grinned, nudging Ino on the shoulder and winking at Sakura, "You two are lifesavers. I'm getting so desperate I was going to ask Lee for advice, and he's not exactly the master of subtlety."

Rock Lee and TenTen had begun to date a few years after the war. Having bonded as comrades for years, it was Lee who had finally worked up the courage to ask TenTen out for a date, and from what TenTen told them it was a night she would never forget. To this day they weren't certain if that was a good thing or a bad thing, with Lee it could have been both. She was married like the rest of them, and minus a few funny antics Lee did that embarrassed his wife beyond measure, TenTen was without a doubt deeply in love with him. Sakura couldn't have been happier for the pair.

"Oh? What did he have in mind? My shop could use a little promotion, maybe he could help?" Ino's flower shop was still a long-running business and it had no problems as it is, but if she could enlist the aid of a friend to help increase her profits, she wouldn't hesitate.

TenTen, by now, had broken the ice and took her chopsticks in hand. Taking the plate just in front of her, she removed the sizzling meat from the grill ahead and began to fix a small plate together. "The last time I asked Lee to help with my shop was when I first opened, and it was disastrous. You two really don't remember?"

Ino shook her head, while Sakura remained uncertain. Their lives had been hectic, and TenTen's shop had opened a long time ago. It had become difficult to recall the events when their day to day lives were already so packed.

"Right," TenTen took a small sum of meat from her plate and ate just as Sakura and Ino had followed up on her initial grab, "I asked him to hand out some flyers and help me promote my opening, and he was excited. I asked him to hand out flyers. I asked him to hand them out. To hand. Hand out the flyers." TenTen couldn't stress this enough. "So I give him an hour. I clean my counters, I make sure every tool I have is straight and sparkling. He manages to come back in five minutes empty-handed." TenTen paused to reach for more meat, leaving the other two on the edge of their seats. "I asked him: 'Honey, why are you back so soon? I handed you over a hundred flyers.' And then he tells me: 'I found a new method of handing them out, come and see!' So I step outside, and what do I find? My flyers are falling from the sky!"

Sakura stifled her laughter and tried to keep her composure. Ino snapped her fingers in realization.

"I remember that day! At first I thought it was snowing out, but it was paper. Those were yours?"

"Yep. Apparently to hand something out meant toss the stack in the air and use taijutsu on it! Two words: Leaf Hurricane. It got the word out, what copies weren't totally torn apart from the force of his kick anyway." TenTen wasn't offended by Sakura's grinning. She laughed about it too from time to time. "Whenever I have a bad day in particular though, he's always there to tell me that tomorrow could bring something better. I couldn't stay mad at him for long, and he even cleaned up all the shreds by hand after apologizing." Sighing dreamily, TenTen closed her eyes and imagined his grin. "He can be a pain, but he's always there for me, and he hates letting me down."

Sakura and Ino smiled together at TenTen's transition from annoyance to love. Ino knew the feeling well, as did Sakura. It didn't take a genius like Shikamaru to figure out where the conversation was going. The significant others they had chosen to spend their lives with, through better or worse, sickness and health. It was rare that they had the opportunity to spend time like this, and even rarer to share little known facts and quirks about them because of their schedules.

Ino smiled with mischief behind it, her inner perversions ready and willing to come to life. Having always been one of the top gossip girls in their small circle, Ino was also the one most willing to brag about her sexual adventures with her husband. Neither TenTen nor Sakura knew if Sai was aware of how proud Ino was of his bedroom talents.

"Hinata couldn't make it tonight, or Karui, or Temari. So we've got all the stiffs out of the way."

"Hinata's a stiff?" Sakura questioned.

"About the juicy stuff, yeah. It's not like she'd ever talk about Lord Hokage's bedroom techniques."

"And we would!?" TenTen argued. Already familiar with Ino's prying, it didn't bother her as much as it would seem. Truth was, she was one of the few girls in the circle that would be able to boast about her husband's 'technique'. The only problem was you'd need to coax it out of her with a few drinks, and she had no intention of getting silly tonight. "If you wanted that kind of talk, you should have just had us meet elsewhere. No way am I getting into that kind of thing in a barbecue joint of all places, give me some credit here. Right Sakura?"

"…Yeah, right." Sakura had actually given Ino's choice of discussion some thought. It wasn't as if she wasn't content with her sex life, it's just that there was hardly one to begin with. Sasuke Uchiha wasn't a man of physical lust, and Sakura never expected him to be. As long as she had him to share her bed, she could endure a lack of sexual contact. It was Ino who had always been the quickest at bragging about her exploits when appropriate, and while Sakura wouldn't have minded putting her intimate life against Ino's, this wasn't the environment necessary.

That, and she'd probably win. It was a given that Sai probably had time to perfect his ability with Ino, and the last time Sakura could be intimate with her husband was over two months ago. Sasuke had been gone again, her friends knew that.

"Fine, you're right, this isn't the ideal place. But next time we're going to a bar!" Ino announced, receiving no complaints from her friends. Drinking socially was a good experience just as long as no one here overdid it.

A short period of talking about their families had begun. Ino had gone over the troubles of getting the new Ino-Shika-Cho trio to take their training more seriously. With Shikamaru handling business with Naruto and keeping him in line, Shikadai was left with very little encouragement. Choji's sassy daughter on the other hand outright refused to do anything when getting something to eat was on the line; her culinary abilities were growing according to her proud father, but that didn't mean they should forget about traditions. Inojin, Ino happily mentioned, was the only one making an effort to keep them in line, a trait she was confident came from her.

This left TenTen to quickly cut in before Ino had initiated another unintentional rant on Temari and Karui's lack of care for the next generation's formation. While the shop was still managing to run, TenTen was left to discuss with Ino and Sakura the joys of not being in her home all day. What customers she did manage to get were curious about her merchandise were always polite and a little clueless. Not only was she rewarded with teaching people something new about ninja tools, but she could come home to a warm meal and a clean house. Yes, much to Sakura and Ino's surprise, Lee had taken his assumed role seriously. While TenTen worked, Lee made certain the house was spotless and was already preparing dinner when she was making her way home. Father and son would greet her with a smile just before the unrelenting questions and concerns about her day came forward. How was her day? Did she meet anyone new? What would she like for dessert?

Sakura smiled at the scenario TenTen gave them and was more than happy that her friend could experience a joy like that. For a long time now Sakura too had wanted to set a scene just like that, if not for herself, then for Sarada. A warm, glowing home with a fixed dinner to come home to after a long day. Sasuke would be there for her too, asking her how she did on her latest test. Beaming with pride, Sarada would tell him about her amazing scores and how she missed him. Sasuke would smile at her and tell her how he wasn't going anywhere again, that his journeying was over for now. Sarada wouldn't go another day without him unable to welcome her home without good reason for it, and they could all sit down and have dinner like a normal family. It was something she had wanted for quite some time, but she never had the ability to ask Sasuke of it. Making him stay here when his heart and mind always took him elsewhere was selfish. Next time for sure, Sakura promised herself, she'd ask him to stay home. Not for her. Not for Naruto. Only for their daughter.

"What about you, Sakura?"

Sakura snapped out of her stupor, meeting Ino and TenTen's gaze.

"Sorry, what?"

"Your best memory with Sasuke. It can't have been public either, just you two." Ino explained.

"And it doesn't have to be sexual, either." TenTen gave Ino an unamused stare out of the corner of her eye, causing Ino to laugh uneasily.

"My best memory with Sasuke-kun? Let me think…" Sakura had begun to gather every fine memory she could of Sasuke. There were occasions where Sasuke could be very loving and concerned, several individual incidents could be named right now if she wanted to do so. The term 'best' made her want to up the ante; if it was to be labeled the best, then it had to be something both pure and unexpected. Something TenTen and Ino couldn't possibly guess. Before they had gotten married, and before Sasuke had even left Konoha for the first time, there was one time in particular the kunoichi could remember a Sasuke no one else knew about. Just thinking about what he said that day brought red to her cheeks.

"Oh, so you do remember something?" Ino leaned in and reached across the table, prodding Sakura's forehead. "Come on, we're waiting!"

"All right, all right, let me properly recall it." Sakura's cheeks were tight as can be from her smiling, "Okay. It was just after our teams were assigned, and as you know I ended up with Naruto and Sasuke. I was sitting on a bench during lunch and thinking about how to really grab his attention, because at the time the only real physical asset I had was my stupid forehead. In the middle of all that, I saw Sasuke-kun leaning on a tree right ahead of me!" Sakura resisted the urge to hug herself at this nostalgia, and based on Ino and TenTen's excited stares they had no idea how this was going to end. "I began imagining that he'd come up and tell me my forehead was charming, and that he'd kiss it, but I accepted that was going to be impossible. But then he made his way over to me and said exactly what I was imagining. He tried to say it was something only Naruto would say, but it meant a lot to me regardless. This was before I even confessed to him, and I've carried that precious memory with me ever since. I guess you could say that was our very first 'moment'."

TenTen and Ino both were still hanging on to it. "Then what?" Ino asked.

"Well, then he sat down with me and talked to me about Naruto of all people. I said a few things about him and then I tried to make a move and kiss Sasuke-kun, but he ran off embarrassed about it. He was so shy back then!"

TenTen struggled to imagine it, and laughed as she did so. "Sasuke Uchiha running away from a kiss, huh? It's hard to believe, but you must have really had an effect on him. Ino, you competed with Sakura for him too, right? Would you have been jealous?" TenTen looked over to Ino, but her reaction was less resembling joy and jealously, but moreso thoughtfulness. The Yamanaka was staring up at the ceiling, arms folded. Sakura had stopped gushing and expected Ino to say something.

"Sasuke complimented you back when we graduated, all that time ago?" Ino peered back down at Sakura to find her nodding. "He wasn't really one to do that, in fact I don't think he ever gave anyone the time of day. Why would Sasuke have—"

"Hey, now! Are you trying to ruin her favorite memory?" TenTen asked, "She knows Sasuke better than we do now, and it's not like she'd forget what he looked like."

Ino looked to TenTen, puzzled. "It's true that she knows him better than we do now, but in the past we were both just people to him. In fact, the only boy I really remember interested in Sakura back then was Naruto."

"Naruto?" Sakura said. While her memory lingered on the past, she began to recall Naruto Uzumaki. An outcast of Konoha that no one respected, and who became a hero that earned the appreciation and love of his village. Sakura had found herself very fond of who Naruto was during their early Team 7 days. He could be clueless and loud, but when it counted he was dependable and always there when someone needed help. That boy she dismissed during their academy days was now the Hokage of the village, a goal he always screamed about when they were growing up. It had been some time since they had spoken together and Sakura intended to invite him over for dinner at some point in the future, perhaps when Sasuke got back from his ongoing trip. Sakura's affection for Naruto had never truly left, but he was a man with a family and a lot of responsibilities on his plate. Getting together to talk was difficult with their schedules. It had already taken Ino three weeks to set this gathering up, and in the end Hinata couldn't even make it here, nor Karui and Temari. "Naruto was interested in me back then, that's true, but Sasuke-kun had a sensitive side to him that day. He was really sweet."

"Hmm, yeah, but …why would he ask you what you thought of Naruto?" Ino's baffled expression moved to Sakura, and TenTen too was beginning to get curious. Ino knew Sasuke back then too, which was why it was more appropriate that Ino ask her this than anyone else. "They were rivals back then, and it's not like Naruto liked Sasuke and the other way around. It's hard to imagine Sasuke asking you, you didn't really like Naruto back then, right?"

"…" Sakura's mind was beginning to work, too. "Well, maybe he just wanted to get my opinion. We were on a team, maybe my input meant something."

"He seemed like he already had a strong opinion of Naruto, and it's not like he couldn't tell girls liked him. Hmm," Ino peered down at her empty plate, the meat long since consumed. By now they were only here to talk. "Come to think of it, during lunch I remember seeing Sasuke being ambushed."

"Ambushed?" TenTen asked, leaving Sakura growing more and more confused.

"A rope came around him. Shikamaru and I saw him get dragged inside a room, and then Sasuke shouted something: "Damn you Naruto!" I think. Naruto must have been the one to ambush him, not that it mattered, Sasuke did beat him up and leave."

Sakura's heart had begun to race at what Ino was suggesting to her, but it had calmed down once it was revealed that Sasuke had dealt with Naruto, as was expected. "Yeah, that's Sasuke-kun for you." Sakura smiled, and struggled to continue to do so. Talking about Naruto's past affection for her had always brought a painful mix of feelings to emerge. She cared for him deeply, she always would, but the past was in the past. Naruto had moved on and he was happy, she encouraged him to be with Hinata and he was happier for it.

"…But then Choji said something else, he said that he saw Sasuke leaving the room he left a few minutes prior."

"Wait two Sasuke's left that room?" TenTen had to comment, her interest growing stronger each passing second. "Sasuke left that room twice somehow?"

"It doesn't make sense, I know, but I'm positive I heard Sasuke mention Naruto's name. If two Sasuke's left that room, is it possible-"

"You're being crazy," Sakura began, voice firm and unwavering. In an ongoing fight to stop all doubt, she'd go against Ino's theory to protect her own memory. It was the one thing Sasuke could never have taken away from her, and although he may have forgotten about that it didn't mean she would. To suggest Sasuke could be beaten by Naruto was insane, both Ino and Sakura shared too much confidence in him to ever believe that. "Sasuke-kun was the best of our class, he was Rookie of the Year, remember? The one everyone expected to excel. Naruto was a different person back then, and I know for a fact he couldn't have taken Sasuke-kun out."

"In a direct fight it sounds dumb, I agree. Sasuke always beat Naruto in our exercises growing up. However," Ino brought her gaze back to TenTen, "An ambush is totally different from a head-to-head fight. Don't you agree?"

To Sakura's horror, TenTen agreed, head nodding a couple times. "If we're talking about the past, you remember that time when Naruto fooled Kiba in the Chuunin Preliminary round?"

Ino laughed immediately, "Yeah, he was always pulling pranks and doing stupid things. To think he could fool Kiba so easily, all that time joking around must have paid off—"

"No way." Sakura looked from Ino to TenTen, "You don't really think that something like that could be true, right? Choji must have been seeing things."

"Choji's many things, but he was never blind Sakura. To be fair I thought it was crazy too, but what you said Sasuke told you that day really does seem like something Naruto would tell you. No offense."

TenTen intervened before Sakura could engage her any further, "Did he ever come back?"

Sakura recomposed herself at TenTen's question. Sasuke did come back after that, but the conversation was entirely different than before. "Sasuke-kun did come back, yes."

"Well, what did he say after he ran away?" Ino questioned.

It struck Sakura as odd that, now of all times, that she had never thought about this before. Ino's perspective, as well as what Choji told her, were directly influencing her own precious memory of the situation. Sasuke's compliment to her was a precious one that was nestled deep in her heart, and it always had been.

"The first thing he asked me was … it was…" Sakura leaned back in her booth and placed a hand to her forehead. It had been such a long time ago, but if she could remember the exact details of Sasuke's compliment, then what came next should be a piece of cake. Her past self was grinning like a fool and waiting for him to come back, and Sasuke had been coming through, but it didn't seem like he was looking for her. He was looking around for someone or something else, but why?

"Where's Naruto…" Sakura mumbled, recalling it clear as day now.

"Where's Naruto?" Ino tilted her head, "If he beat Naruto up, he'd know where he was …in which case…" she trailed off quietly, and TenTen dare not break the silence this time.

"The first thing he said to me during lunch when he came back…it …it couldn't have been Naruto." Sakura was deep in disbelief, yet reasons for this coincidence were absent from her mind. Rationalizing everything was becoming more and more impossible, and even Ino and TenTen could see why things weren't adding up. It wasn't a matter of if Sasuke loved her back then, it was a matter of if it was really him that day that walked up to her and paid her that compliment. Sasuke wouldn't have cared for her opinion on Naruto, it wasn't as if he cared for her to begin with when they were just starting out, right? Her mind was racing, and her heart was beating intensely. It had made sense; every single detail Ino offered went with the story provided. Choji wasn't blind, Choji wasn't a liar, so he really must have seen Sasuke leaving again after Naruto's ambush. Why would Sasuke ask about Naruto if he won that skirmish? And worst of all, she knew that the second Sasuke was the real one because of one crucial detail, something that helped Sakura be 100% certain.

"You're annoying."

"Naruto…" Sakura quietly accepted the truth of it, staring dumbfounded at Ino and TenTen just across the table. Every precious memory of Naruto and the times they spent together raced in her head, leading up to one in particular that she regret most of all.

"I hate people who lie to themselves!"