"So you're going on a training trip?" The bitterness that he was leaving her behind unintentionally slipped into her tone. She knew it was silly and that in part he was doing this to bring back Sasuke, but she couldn't help but wish that Naruto could stay in Konoha.
She wanted at least some semblance of her normal life to stay behind, even if it was Naruto. But still, how could she dream of denying him a chance to train with Jiraiya of the Sanin, even she wasn't that selfish.
Naruto nodded, his face still bandaged from his battle with Sasuke. He nodded into his ramen and gave her a confident smile. She wondered what had been damaged more, his body or his spirit in the fight with Sasuke. His smile seemed dimmer than before, just enough that Sakura could see that he was hurting too. "Don't worry Sakura! I'll be back in no time and then I'll bring Sasuke back."
"No," Sakura clenched her fist and glared at Naruto, her remaining teammate nearly jumped out of his seat. There he went again trying to take the burden onto himself, forcing her to the sidelines to try and protect her. She was tired of staring at his back. "I'll get stronger too, then we'll go get Sasuke. Together. As a team."
He turned to look at her. It was a look he had given her a few times; like she was the most amazing person in the entire world. She didn't deserve that look, it made her feel weak, there was no way she deserved it. Naruto then smiled at her. "Yea We'll get."
"Sasuke together." Sakura heard herself say. She felt funny. Really really funny. Like fifteen cups of coffee before noon funny. And what's more is that she was staring at herself: A confused version of herself.
She hoped that Naruto was stupid enough to turn into her, only because she didn't want to deal with the alternative. She looked down and saw orange. She met her own gaze once again, a terrified expression on her face. "Naruto?"
They both nodded. A few moments of silence as understanding washed over them, the calm before the storm. Then panic. "Ahh! What are you doing in my body!"
"What am I doing in your body?" It was impossible to tell which one said which as they both screamed at the same time.
Sakura stood, Naruto's legs were short. And she felt something shift. Was this how boys always were? It felt like she could run a mile, no wonder Naruto was so hyper all the time.
It was then that she heard the malicious cackling that was all too familiar. Sakura spun and looked up to the roof behind them. Ino's legs were being kicked into the air, laughing so hard she had fallen on her back. "Naruto if you do anything to my body, if you even think about doing anything to my body then I will end you."
Like a good boy, Naruto nodded and went rigid.
"Ino-pig!" Sakura shouted and began to chase after her screaming blond friend as she laughed through the village.
After the horrible experience that was being inside of Naruto's body Sakura saw him off. It felt like there was something more that should have been said between, something missing in their goodbye. But the only thing that was really missing was Sasuke.
Sakura paused for a moment before the doors to Tsunade's office. If Naruto was being trained by Jiraiya. And Sasuke went to Orochimaru. There was only one person that she could turn to keep up with them, the last member of the Sannin.
She knocked on the door.
There was a scrambling and a clanking of bottles. "Yes? Come in."
The room smelled of booze and ink. Behind a desk filled with paperwork sat Tsunade a curious expression on her face with a single blonde eyebrow raised. Sakura bowed politely. She would not leave this room without Tsunade agreeing to train her.
It was the only path she could take. "Lady Tsunade."
"Ahh, Sakura correct? Naruto's teammate?" Sakura nodded. "The brat talked a lot about you, but what brings you to my office?"
Sakura steeled her soul and stood straight. Correcting her posture so that she stood with pride that she shouldn't have, Sakura took a deep breath and met Tsunade's eyes. She felt the mouse standing before the dragon. "I would like you to train me."
Tsunade looked taken aback, whatever she had been expecting from this, that clearly wasn't it. Then her surprise turned into amusement. "Oh, and why should I consider your request?"
"Because when Naruto and Sasuke return I want them to stare at my back for once. I'm tired of relying on them." A nervous sweat dripped down her back. That wasn't what she had planned to say in the slightest. "I need to get stronger so that they can rely on me instead of me always being in the way."
Tsunade let out a chuckle and stood up from her desk, her heels tapped against the ground with each step. "That's why you want me to train you, not why I should train you."
"I," Sakura began desperately trying to find the magical words that would convince Tsunade to train her. Honesty would be her best bet. "If you accept me I will be the hardest working apprentice you've ever seen."
"I'm sure you would." Tsunade stood before her, despite the woman's short stature she had an air of confidence about her that made her seem much larger. With hawk-like eyes Tsunade examined Sakura, pulling as much information as she could out of her. "Getting strong than your teammates is fine, but what is your end goal?"
Sakura swallowed a gulp of air that rivaled the desert in its dryness. Her goal was to simply be strong enough to not rely on Naruto and Sasuke. To fight by their side. Sasuke's goal was to become the stronger than his brother. Naruto's was to become the strongest Hokage ever.
She never doubted Sasuke, and now she didn't doubt Naruto. Which meant her simple goal was a lot more complicated. If she wanted to keep up with her teammates then that would require; "My goal is to surpass you Lady Tsunade."
"Good," Tsunade's smile turned cheerful and she slapped her hands onto Sakura's shoulders. "We'll start right now, From today forth you will call me Master."
Sakura did not like the sound of that.
"Shadow Clone Jutsu!"
Sakura blinked, how did she get here? Where even was here? A lightly forested river meandered through its rocky banks, and a cozy looking inn was nestled between two green trees.
"Sakura?" Naruto's voice shifted in tone the same it always did when he was confused. She spun to see Naruto standing on a rock. What on earth was going on here? The last thing she remembered was… she didn't know what the last thing she remembered was. "What are you doing here and why are you wearing my clothes?"
Sakura looked down and found that she was indeed wearing Naruto's clothes. "What the hell?"
"Oh, I know! You're just a clone trying to pull a prank on me! Well, it's not going to work!"
A ball slammed into Sakura's face with enough force to not only knock her off her feet but force her to spin around twice in the air before she landed flat on her back. The entire world screamed of pain.
"When I said to try and catch one I didn't mean with your face."
Sakura heard her master shout from across the clearing though really it was but a single bell in the chorus of pain that wracked her mind.
What on earth was that? Why was she daydreaming of Naruto all of a sudden, especially in the middle of training? It felt so real too, more real than any of her past fantasies of Sasuke asking her out. That only made the daydream more confusing. It was so random there was no context, no well any reason for her to even think about that.
"Giving up already?" Tsunade called out, "Cause if so I don't think you'll ever catch up to Naruto, let alone surpass me."
Sakura rolled onto stomach and pushed herself up off the ground. A bit of blood leaked from her nose. For a brief moment, she wondered if Tsunade would be offended if she told her the goals were backward. "I'm not giving up!"
"Then stand up." She could hear the pride in Tsunade's voice. They had only been training for a week but already Sakura could feel the progress. She wasn't making great strides and leaps, but slowly and surely she was climbing the first cliff towards her goals.
With a groan, Sakura stood up removing the last bit of blood from her nose. No doubt Tsunade would guide her through fixing it later. Then her master spiked yet another ball at her. It was going to be a long day.
"Shadow Clone Jutsu!"
Sakura blinked again. It was the same river as before. She was still wearing Naruto's clothes and Naruto was standing in front of her. But why was she here again?
"Dammit! Why do you keep trying to prank me it won't work and it's not funny! Besides you're nowhere near as cute as the real Sakura." Naruto walked over and poked her hard in the shoulder.
Sakura barely had enough time to realize that another ball was flying towards her. She didn't have time to dodge. Reflexes kicked in; she snared the ball with her arms drawing it into her chest, had the ball been thrown by a shinobi more her strength it would have been a clean catch. But this was thrown by her master.
A clean catch was a bad idea. The ball picked her up and ran her all the way into a large tree. The crack that came from the collision was so loud that she wondered if her spine had broken.
She managed to land on her feet at least.
Spine was battered and bruised but unbroken.
"When I said catch this! I didn't mean literally!" Tsunade called out from across the clearing. "But A for effort!"
Sakura could only nod, she wasn't entirely certain if she could separate her arms from the ball. Instead, she squeezed it tighter, unwilling to let ball have a single inch to move and inflict more damage on her. With legs that wobbled like noodles, Sakura walked forward. "Thank you, Master!"
Tsunade seemed to cross the distance in an instant catching Sakura before she fell forward. "Alright, I think that's enough for today, we'll be doing the rest of your training now."
That meant one thing, books, books and more books. There was even a book about the books.
"Shadow Clone Jutsu"
This time Sakura was ready. It was the same place as before, with her wearing the same clothes. This time she was going to find Naruto and beat the answer out of him! Only there wasn't just one Naruto this time.
"Ha! I just have to make more clones and then you won't show up." One of the Naruto said sticking his tongue out at her. Something about him felt different than the other Narutos. He must be the original. "Honestly you should just."
"Listen here Idiot," Sakura lunged for him, grabbing Naruto by his collar, and pulling him inches off the ground. "I have no idea what's going on or why I'm here. Or why I keep disappearing. So you better start explaining right now."
"Wait you're not a clone?" Naruto's eyes went wide as a familiar panic set in when he realized Sakura was mad at him. "Sakura!? what are you doing here; how are you here; why do I keep making you?"
Sakura grit her teeth in anger, her mother said if she kept doing that she'd wreck her teeth but Naruto just forced her to do it. She should charge him for getting her teeth fixed. "That's what I want to know Idiot! And why Can't I remember what happened before either?"
Naruto struggled, kicking his feet slightly. The fact that it was all an act fueled Sakura's irritation. He could easily break free from her grip or have his clones help her. And apparently, he could make her disappear whenever he wanted. With a snarl, she threw him onto his ass.
"I don't know okay!" Naruto mumbled sitting up into a cross-legged position, it was his thinking pose. He scratched the back of his head and squinted his eyes. "Just when I make clones you kept appearing and you disappeared like clones. So I thought you were a clone pulling a prank on me or something."
"Why would your clones do that? They're literally you. Idiot!" She barked, pinching her nose in frustration. This was just her luck.
"You sure you're Sakura? You a lot meaner than her." A quick glare cut that thought from Naruto's tongue. "Anyways I don't know, I guess I thought my clones would do that because I missed you or something?"
Sakura groaned and stomped her feet in frustration. She did not like the sound of this at all, was she just some figment of Naruto's imagination? No that wasn't right, she had memories of Ino, and plenty of other times where Naruto wasn't there. And if she was then she'd probably be all over Naruto some bullshit like that. "Why would you miss me?"
Naruto shrugged and smiled up at her, grabbing both of his feet as he leaned slightly to one side. "Well, it's just that when I think about Konoha, I get excited about coming back in three years to see how strong and awesome you've become!"
"A lot stronger than you'll be that's for sure!" Sakura snorted, looking away from Naruto to hide the light blush on her face. She turned to see another Naruto smiling at her. This was one of the few times Naruto had made her flush. Even if she knew it wasn't earned it still felt good to be praised. "What are you even doing out here?"
"Hey, brat!" A loud boisterous voice called from above the bank, Sakura turned to see Jiraiya walking over from the inn, he had a curious look on his face that was a combination of amused, happy, and a scowl. "That doesn't look like the training I told you to do."
"It's not my fault!" Naruto whined loudly from his sitting position. Pointing an accusatory finger at Sakura he stood up glaring at his teacher. "She showed up and I got distracted."
Pride filled Jiraiya's face and even his back straightened at this. "Oh, oh-oh, got yourself a girlfriend do you? Well, I can't say I'm surprised, you spent enough time around me that some of my moves must have rubbed off on you."
It was then that Jiraiya really looked at Sakura, it was only a glance then the old man frowned. "Isn't she your girlfriend from Konoha? What's she doing all the way out here? And wearing your clothes no less."
"That's what I want to know!" Sakura shouted before Naruto could speak, going so far as to slap her hand over Naruto's mouth before he said something stupid. "And I'm not his girlfriend."
That was a statement that would be true until the end of time. Nothing was going to change that fact, and nothing ever would. As surely as the sun would rise so too would Sakura Haruno never be Naruto's girlfriend?
"Whatever you say girlie, now do you want to explain to me what's going on?" Jiraiya asked looking at Sakura and the still muzzled Naruto. "You sure you two aren't dating?"
"We're not!" Sakura growled as if to prove her point she let go of Naruto and pushed him to the side roughly. "Now look, I don't know why I'm here but for some reason whenever the Idiot, uses his Clone Jutsu I appear."
Jiraiya looked between the other two Naruto's that stood side by side each other then back at Sakura. "So you're the first clone he makes? Has he tried dispelling you?"
"He got rid of me twice." Sakura sent Naruto a dark glare. It was a weird feeling suddenly not existing, she was aware that time passed when she came back, but at the same time she didn't know what happened in between.
"I see," Jiraiya nodded into his hand and closed his eyes in thought.
"Do you know what's causing this?" What would happen to her if he did? She was just a clone if Jiraiya knew whatever was causing this and he fixed it would she never exist, would she even know that she didn't exist anymore?
Jiraiya interrupted Sakura existential crisis with the snap of his fingers. "I got it! I know what's going on."
"You do?" Sakura asked both fearful and hopeful.
"Yep," Jiraiya crossed his arms and nodded to himself.
"What is it?" Naruto asked before Sakura had a chance to yell.
With a flare for the dramatic Jiraiya opened his eyes and look right at Naruto. "Weird stuff happens around Naruto all the time. So this is just more weird stuff."
One moment she stood there staring at the person that was supposed to be a great ninja, capable of becoming Hokage. The next had him by the collar of his shirt shaking him like a flag caught in a windstorm. "What's that supposed to mean! How does that help me!"
He grabbed her arm. And then nothing.
Pain wracked Sakura's attention away from the book Tsunade had given her. Well, she hadn't been given it specifically, her master had simply pointed at the wall and said get to work. It was on Sakura to figure out what order to read the books in.
She glared at the page, vaguely aware that she hadn't turned it in what must have been minutes. She had been daydreaming again; it had been her fault this time, the weird daydreams she had during her training physical training with Tsunade had been in the back of her mind constantly. This is why the last one was so much longer than the last one first two.
That and not being assaulted by her master.
"But why Naruto, and why do I keep thinking that I'm a clone of him." Sakura leaned back and stared at the ceiling. The orange light of dusk filled in through the windows casting a dull glow on everything. Her hand brushed against a plate, a dinner set out for her by Shizune no doubt.
It was getting late, she could go home and get some rest.
Or she could do what Naruto and Sasuke would do, and train until she couldn't train anymore. "Even if it is just reading books."
Sakura grabbed a cold bite of her dinner, she'd have to thank Shizune for it later and resumed her studies. "Hopefully that's the last daydream I have for a while."
"Shadow Clone Jutsu"
Sakura found and grabbed Naruto before her sight returned to her. "Did you just dispel me?"
He was wet and dressed in a light blue bathrobe, she was no longer outside, the room they were in was bathed in a pale moonlight.
"Sorry! That was Jiraiya, he wanted to see if we were telling the truth." Naruto's eyes drifted down and his face turned red even in the pale light. His head snapped wide to the side desperately trying not to look at her.
She was wearing a blue bathrobe just like Naruto's. It was loose around the chest. Sakura dropped Naruto like he was a hot potato. Clutching her knees she glared at the blond, How much did he see? Oh god, if she wore what he was wearing he could see everything just by not wearing clothes. "You jerk!"
"It's not my fault!" Naruto sat up refusing to meet her glare for more than a moment. His face looked as red as hers felt. "I just wanted to see if you wanted something to eat or to take a bath."
"Do your clones normally get hungry?" Sakura glared at him. There was no way that clones got hungry Naruto was just being a perverted idiot.
"Yea and they're really annoying too, plus if they get super hungry they go away." Sakura glared harder at Naruto for making her feel like an idiot, it wasn't her fault she didn't know how his stupid clones worked!
"Thanks, but I'm not hungry, and I don't feel dirty either," Sakura grumbled, this could all be an elaborate plan for Naruto peek on her, he was probably too stupid to realize how easy it would be to see her naked.
"Sure, but don't you girls like to relax in the bath or something. I promise not to peek, honest!" There he went promising again. But he wasn't wrong a bath did actually sound good.
Sakura sighed as she felt the bathwater surround her body, it was so nicely warm - scented too - a few candles were lit around the edges to give a soothing light, no doubt extra effort Naruto had put in for her sake.
It was a fantastic way to get on her good side all things considered.
"Hey, Sakura?" Naruto's voice carried through the door as clear as a bell.
Sakura let out a different kind of sigh, this one was harsher than the one that she had let out just moments ago. She supposed that she wouldn't be able to relax for real until they figured out what was going on. "What is it Naruto?"
"I just wanted to you know, ask you how you're doing and see if you remember anything more." She could practically hear him fidgeting, no doubt freaking out that he was talking to a naked girl.
Sakura brought her knees up to her chest, resting her head on them as she stared in the direction of Naruto's voice. "I don't really know, I remember your promise, and I remember you coming back hurt, but beyond that, it gets kind of clouded but the further back I go the clearer the memories are."
The only exception was what happened earlier, it was like a chunk of her memory had been put through a cipher.
"Well, nothing much really happened after that, we went out for ramen, the day before I left, and then uhh… well, nothing much after that happened, you said that you'd get stronger too, then we'd go get Sasuke together."
"I'm glad." Sakura smiled for what felt like the first time. "I suppose if there's one good thing about all this it's that I get to make sure you're not slacking off."
"Hey! I trained all day today!" Naruto stood up in his outburst. "I even got all muddy and wet because of it!"
"Oh, and what training was that?" Sakura snorted. "Looked to me like you were just going to goof off in the river."
"Hey!" Naruto whined. "I The Pervy-Sage said that I should work on my chakra control, so he had me try to make the Rasengan while standing on the water, it wasn't easy but eventually I got the hang of it."
"Impressive." Sakura wasn't entirely certain if it was. "So what kind of training is Jiraiya making you do besides that."
"It's all over the place, sometimes it's strength training, other times chakra control, most of the time we're playing chess or something like that. He said he isn't going to teach me any cool Jutsu, just how to…" She could feel the frown in his voice as he trailed off.
"How to…" Sakura prompted.
"I uhh… I want it to be a surprise, yeah!"
"Uh-huh," Sakura rolled her eyes and relaxed back into the tub. "It better not be anything perverted."
Naruto went silent then and left Sakura to her thoughts.
She relaxed into the bath feeling far more tired than she had a right to feel. The warm waters calling her to sleep. Her eyes closed.
When she had gotten home, Sakura had thought long and hard about gathering the energy to draw herself a nice warm bath. But when she got home long after the summer sun had set, she didn't even have the will to shower and simply flopped onto her bed, too tired to even undress.
She stared at her ceiling for the longest time.
The latest daydream had left her feeling wonderful like she had actually taken the bath that Naruto had prepared for her. It was a rather sweet gesture, almost sweet enough for her to forgive him for staring at her chest.
"No sense in getting mad at Naruto for something that didn't really happen though," Sakura mumbled to herself, waiting for sleep to claim her so she could do all of this again tomorrow.
Hopefully with less freaky daydreams.
AN: MORE NARUSAKU! MORE OF IT!
Been toying with this idea for a while. Finally got convinced to write it by Yangerster and Aergaia