Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of characters. I am making no profit off of this and am only writing it for my entertainment.
A/N: No lie, the hardest part of writing this was deciding which characters get to benefit from me ignoring canon and which don't. I went back and forth over who gets to live and who doesn't forever. Well, that and the logistics of a Same Age AU are more difficult to get around than I expected. And fight scenes. Fight scenes are hard.
I'd also like to thank everyone for being so welcoming to me. Writing for a new ship is always nerve-wracking, and you guys have been lovely :)
Sakura sniffed and rubbed the tears from her eyes. This time, she'd managed to keep from crying long enough to get to her secret hideout instead of breaking down in front of the mean girls at the academy. They didn't used to pick on her so much the year before, but now that her best friend had graduated, there was no one to stop them. The only thing that had kept them at bay before was their respect and admiration for the class prodigy. Things had been different back then. Really different.
Sakura's sniffles began to quiet, but tears still streamed down her cheeks for a completely different reason as she thought back on the change that had overtaken her friend. She barely saw him now that he had not only graduated, but been promoted to chunin. He was always out on missions or training all the time. Not to mention, on the rare occasion that he was home, he avoided everyone. He had become so quiet and serious ever since Sakumo's passing…
"You know, if you spent as much time applying your book knowledge to your training as you did crying, they wouldn't have a reason to make fun of you."
"K-Kakashi," Sakura stared wide-eyed over at her friend who had seemed to appear out of nowhere. She quickly rubbed her tears from her eyes, feeling guilty for crying at all in front of him when he'd suffered far worse than she had.
"Ninja shouldn't allow themselves to be so overcome with emotion," the silver-haired chunin lectured as he settled beside her, bringing his knees up to his chest and settling his arms around them. "People only get hurt when that happens. Channel your feelings into something productive like training so you can be better than them. They won't make fun of you if you're leagues ahead of them."
Sakura blinked, digesting everything he'd told her, then pouted and looked at the ground. "Easy for you to say." Her fingers began absentmindedly pulling at the flowers in the field they sat in. "You were born leagues ahead of everyone else. I'm just-"
"Clever." Sakura's green eyes shot back to the boy beside her whose own charcoal gaze was fixed out in front of them. "You're clever, Sakura. Use it to your advantage."
A small smile began to grow on the six year old girl's face. "You really think so?"
Kakashi's eyes slid over to her, and even though she couldn't see the lower half of his face, she knew he was giving her an exasperated look. "Well I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it, would I?"
Sakura's entire expression lit up, and all previous negative thoughts were banished from her mind at her friend's encouragement. "Then I'll do my best!" She clenched her small fists in determination and grinned at the boy only to be met with a flower—that was very clearly freshly picked from the wildflowers around them—in the face.
"Its…an apology." Even with the mask in place, Sakura could see a light blush dust the silver haired boy's skin. "For not being around as much," he elaborated.
Gingerly, Sakura lifted the flower from Kakashi's fingers and held it to her nose. It was a plain looking flower, but it was beautiful in color. It almost matched her hair perfectly. "Well, it isn't a very good apology since I saw you pick it just now," she teased him with a grin, "But I accept."
"If you don't like it, I'll just take it back," Kakashi huffed more gruffly than a six year old ought to be capable of.
"No, it's mine now," she giggled and held the little flower far away from him. Even if his ego was a little bruised, Kakashi couldn't help but smile at the sight of his best friend happy again, especially when there were so few things to be happy about.
Sakura smiled to herself at the memory as she made her way to Konoha's gates for the first time in three years. It had been so long ago when her drive to better herself began. Graduating from the academy and being lucky enough to have Uzumaki Kushina as her Jonin Sensei pushed her even further, but it was the war that banished all thoughts of childish worries like her hair color or forehead size from her mind. It was the war that forced her to grow up before her age had even reached the double digits.
Despite Kakashi's warning that she was too emotional, it was never something Sakura had managed to outgrow. If anything, she clung to it as a reminder of her humanity. A reminder that she wasn't just a tool or a nameless shinobi to be lost on the battlefield.
Every death was a pierce through the heart, but none hurt more than the death of Uchiha Obito. Over her training under Kushina and her friendship with Kakashi, she'd come to know Team Minato well. Though he'd started out obnoxious, the spirited Uchiha had wormed his way into being one of her closest friends along with the rest of the team, and as if Obito's death wasn't a blow enough, seeing Rin and Kakashi's reactions made it hurt all the more.
It was that day that Sakura decided she couldn't stand to watch any more of her loved ones suffer. From that day forward, she spent all her free time studying or in the hospital learning from the medic-nin there, and when the war ended, she appealed to the new Yondaime to set out on a solo mission.
Sakura still remembered the morning she left. The streets had been quiet when she'd left home. She hadn't expected to see anyone on her way out, but when she reached the gates, Kakashi and Rin were there waiting for her even though she hadn't told them when she'd be leaving.
"Kakashi? Rin? You guys didn't have to see me off," perplexed, Sakura came to a stop in front of her closest friends.
"We don't know when you'll be back. We wanted to wish you luck on your travels," Rin's smile shone as bright as the early morning sun. The brunette's enduring optimism was something Sakura knew she would miss during her journey.
"You could still come with me you know. You have as much to gain from it as I do," Sakura tried. As excited as she was, she had to admit, traveling alone in search of Lady Tsunade of the Legendary Sanin was a daunting task.
"Mmm," Rin shook her head decisively, "My place is here." Sakura didn't miss the way Rin's brown eyes flitted quickly to Kakashi then back. "I'll have to wait for you to teach me your new tricks when you come back."
"So you're really leaving then?" Kakashi spoke in a way that got across exactly what he thought of her journey. After so many years of knowing him, Sakura prided herself on how well she could read him, and right now she could tell that despite knowing it was the best course of action, he didn't want her to go.
"You're the one that pushed me to be the best. Don't tell me you're going to try to stop me now," she laughed lightly to hide the thick emotion that crept through her voice, because despite knowing it was the best course of action, a part of her didn't want to leave either.
"No. Just…be careful." Kakashi's voice softened in the way it always did when she knew he was being especially sincere. He didn't want to lose another friend anymore than she did. A lot could happen while she was on the road.
"I will. I'll come back stronger than ever. 'Kay?" She smiled reassuringly at him then pulled him into a tight hug before he had the chance to pull away. "This is something I have to do. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone." She pulled back and turned to Rin before Kakashi could see the reluctance to leave in her eyes. She couldn't give him the chance to change her mind. In a way, Obito's death had brought the three of them closer. It made it all that much harder to leave the two of them behind.
"Take care of him for me, Rin." The girls embraced tightly. "And you take care of yourself too."
They parted and Sakura took a deep breath as she stared at the road just beyond the gates. "Well. I guess this is goodbye."
And now, three years later, she was returning home. The gates came into view, and Sakura could feel a giddiness within her. An extra burst of speed, and in seconds, her feet were touching Konoha soil. She couldn't hold back the enormous grin from her face as she wandered through the familiar streets.
"Eh? Sakura?" A voice pulls her attention from near one of the stands in the marketplace. It took her less than a second to identify the owner of the voice as Rin. Though she'd grown, she still looked almost exactly the same as she had the day Sakura left. The only thing that gave Sakura pause was the blonde little boy holding onto her friend's hand.
"R-Rin?" Sakura could do nothing but point in shock at the little boy who couldn't be more than two. There was no way he could be her kid. Rin was only sixteen, maybe seventeen just like Sakura. There was just no way.
"Huh?" Rin followed Sakura's finger to the small boy beside her, "Oh! Right. You left before Kushina was pregnant." She guided the young blonde over to the pink-haired kunoichi and bent down to the boy's level. "Sakura, meet Naruto. Naruto, Sakura. Sakura was one of your mom's genin students, Naruto."
Sakura's eyes softened as she looked at the boy. She'd already been gone when the Kyuubi had attacked Konoha, but she'd heard about the casualties. When she'd heard about Minato's fate, she'd wept for Kushina. For a while, she'd thought about returning early, but Tsunade had talked her out of it. "It's nice to meet you, Naruto," Sakura squatted down and offered her hand to the boy with a smile. "Hopefully I'll be seeing more of you around."
"I'm watching him today while Kushina's out on a mission," Rin explained only to be interrupted by someone loudly calling her name.
"Rin! Riiiiiiin! Where'd you go?"
Sakura's eyes widened at the familiar sounding voice. Her heart seized in her chest. "But…that's not…that's not possible," she murmured to herself and stood just in time for the unruly, ebony-haired boy to come into view. The entire right half of his face was disfigured and scared while the left eye was covered by a bit of fabric that dropped down from his hitai-ate, but his identity was unmistakable. He even still wore that idiotic pair of orange goggles on top of his head.
"Obito!" Rin turned and waved him over. "Over here! Look who's back!"
The next thing she knew, Sakura was being picked up and whirled around by someone she'd long thought to be dead.
"O-Obito? But you're- How are you-?" Her feet touched the ground again, but she couldn't stop staring at the man in front of her.
"Oh…I guess no one told you, huh?" He paused and scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "I've been back for a year now. It's a long story th-oof," He glanced over when Rin poked him in the side and looked meaningfully at Naruto who seemed to be held rapt by every word the older boy was saying. "Thaaaat we can fill you in on later because it is inappropriate for young ears, mmhmm," he nodded sagely. "Yeah. That's what I was going to say." The two year old's disappointment was palpable, and it took everything in Sakura not to melt at the cute pout on his face.
"Have either of you seen Kakashi around?" Sakura changed the subject, finally having shaken off her initial shock at seeing Obito alive. "I should probably let him know I'm back now that I've run into the two of you."
Obito and Rin glanced at each other. Subconsciously, Rin's hand went to rub her right shoulder as though it pained her. Just like that, the entire atmosphere changed.
"Guys…you're scaring me…" Sakura's smile dropped immediately, and a look of worry took it's place.
"Oh no! It's nothing like that!" Rin put her hands up quickly to calm Sakura. "It's just…he might be…different…than when you last saw him. He's taken," she glanced at Naruto again, "Some things hard."
"Yeah, and being in Anbu for the past three years hasn't exactly helped his cheerful disposition," Obito added. "If he's not out on a mission, he'll probably be at the cemetery."
True to Obito's word, when she found Kakashi, he was standing somberly in front of Minato Sensei's gravestone, and he looked like he hadn't moved from there in a while.
"I see you've finally outgrown me." Sakura moved to stand next to him. Her eyes softened as she looked at the name engraved on the stone in front of her. "I'm sorry I wasn't here," she spoke again after a moment, "It seems I've missed a lot in my absence."
"No, it's better that you weren't here. I know you. You wouldn't have given up until you found a way to be there with him and Kushina Sensei. And then were would we be?"
"It wasn't supposed to be like this. I wanted to learn so that we wouldn't lose anyone else." Sakura bent down and brushed a hand over the cold stone, trying not to let her voice waver.
"Death…is a part of the shinobi's way of life." Kakashi's voice sounded hollow. "I should know." He'd lost count of how many people he'd killed in cold blood as an Anbu alone. How many had it been since he'd become a shinobi? Death followed him more than anyone else he knew. His mother, his father. Even if Obito was alive now, Kakashi had thought him dead for two years, and he'd carried that burden. He'd almost been responsible for Rin's death, and she still had the scar just above her heart to prove it. If Sakura hadn't left the village when she did, there was a part of him that wondered if she'd have suffered by his hands too.
"It doesn't have to be as prominent a part as it has been," Sakura stood with a determined look in her eye. "I'll see to that. I've talked to Lady Tsunade, and now that the war's over, I'm going to resume her petition to have a medic-nin on every squad. That way we can minimize casualties as much as possible."
"Having a medic on the team might not do anything," Kakashi sighed tiredly. "Rin was on my team when Obito got hurt. It could just hinder mission efficiency. Medics aren't allowed to fight on the front lines, and defending them would just be a distraction from the mission. They would slow the squad down. I know you know that. Lady Tsunade made the rules herself. It's better to just put together the best team for the job and get in and out as quickly as possible."
"In a war, that makes sense, but as long as the medical ninja are trained in combat as well as medical ninjutsu, there shouldn't be a problem for individual missions. Kakashi," Sakura's eyes sparkled with sincerity and passion as she addressed him. He could tell she believed what she was saying 100%. "Fight me. Fight me and then afterwards, you can honestly tell me whether you think it's possible or not. You'll see."
"Sakura, I'm not going to-"
Kakashi sighed. "I'm not going to get out of this, am I?" One look at Sakura proved she wouldn't be dropping this any time soon. "Fine. But I'm not going easy on you. Meet me on the third training ground."
In the blink of an eye, he was gone, and Sakura took a brief moment to smile triumphantly before body flickering away as well. She had to admit, she was excited by the prospect of going up against him. His skills had always seemed so far out of reach to her, but now she was sure that she could give him a challenge at the very least if not give him a run for his money.
The second she appeared on the training grounds, she was deflecting a barrage of kunai. Leave it to Kakashi to start the sparring session without any warning. He'd always been very serious when it came to his training.
By the time she'd either dodged or deflected all the kunai, Kakashi was nowhere to be seen. She knew he'd already be long gone from where the kunai had come from. Now, where is he?
Closing her eyes, she focused on trying to find his chakra signature only to catch a wisp of it coming from exactly where the kunai had. She snorted to herself. As if she'd fall for such an obvious trap. Even before she'd left Konoha, Kakashi had been able to control his chakra well enough to mask it to a point where it was nearly undetectable. The traces she was getting were way to strong for it not to be a trap.
"Sakura…" A shadow appeared from within the woods where the chakra signature was. Ever so slowly, Kakashi hobbled out, covered in blood. "H-help."
"Now you're just insulting me, Kakashi," Sakura rolled her eyes and formed the release sign. As quickly as it had come, the genjutsu faded away. Immediately, Sakura turned on her heel. In the blink of an eye, her fist was coming down on Kakashi, who had used the distraction to sneak up behind her. The second her fist made contact, he disappeared in a poof of smoke, leaving behind a thoroughly shattered log.
"You've gotten stronger." His voice seemed to come from all around her. The hair on the back of Sakura's neck stood on end, and she couldn't help but feel like he was playing with her.
"If you think I'll be that easy to beat, you've got another thing coming," she spoke to the air, trying to buy herself time to locate him. She just needed to land one solid hit on him to put him out of commission. She had to use the surprise of her new strength to her advantage while he still didn't know the full scope of it. Failing that, if she could just do something to prevent him from forming signs, she'd stand a far better chance at actually beating him.
"Katon: Hōsenka no Jutsu!" Volleys of small fireballs hurtled towards Sakura, all of which she dodged with ease thanks to Tsunade's relentless training. Before her feet even touched the ground, she'd thrown down a smoke bomb and disappeared into the forest under it's cover. She needed to find a way to lure Kakashi closer. She was a close range fighter. If he stayed as far away as he was now, nothing would be achieved.
Kakashi landed on a tree branch at the edge of the woods as the smoke cleared. He'd admit that Sakura's evasion skills had greatly improved, but that wasn't enough to prove that she wouldn't get herself killed by accompanying squads on dangerous missions.
The woods around him were completely silent. It was just as well. A shinobi who couldn't conceal themselves properly could only achieve so much. His sharingan eye roved the area, searching for any sign of her chakra.
It was the sound of metal that drew his attention. Quickly, he whipped out his own kunai to deflect those coming straight for him. By the time they'd stopped coming, little white pieces of paper were fluttering the air and littering the ground around him. The thunk of a kunai landing near him pulled his focus, and his eyes widened at the sight of the explosion tag. It took him no time at all to put two and two together.
By the time the explosion from the hundreds of tiny tags rocked the forest, he was far above it. His eyes narrowed at the flash of pink in the trees above him. He'd always questioned the lack of stealth it afforded her. Backflipping, he landed on a branch not far away. There was no shadow, he realized. And his Sharingan hadn't picked up any chakra signals from where the flash of pink had been. She was trying to distract him.
"Clones don't work on me, Sakura. I can see right through them," he called. His eyes shifted around him.
"See through this!" Kakashi's eyes widened as Sakura boldly hurtled towards him from the front, fist raised. She'd gotten much faster than she had been the last time they'd worked together.
He raised an arm to block her punch. "That won't do any-" His words where cut off. The punch connected, sending an incredible pain up his arm while his entire body was thrown backwards and through a tree from the force of the punch. What strength… He skidded to a stop on the ground, and Sakura was already there, poised to bring her heel down on his sternum. This time, he only barely managed to avoid her in time.
He jumped away, taking stock of his arm as he did. There was no doubt about it, she'd managed to break the bone, and he had the feeling she could have done much worse if she'd wanted to. Even now, he winced at his own movement, he was sure she'd managed to break some ribs when she'd sent him through that tree.
As soon as her foot came in contact with the earth, Sakura bounded away, leaving a crater in the ground. That had been her only chance to take him by surprise with her strength. Now that he knew, he'd plan accordingly. At least she'd eliminated the possibility of being attacked with ninjutsu for now.
"Why don't we call a truce for now?" Sakura's stance relaxed at the sound of Kakashi's voice. "You've proved your point, and I don't really want to fight with this many broken or bruised bones unless I have to." She could practically hear the weary smile hidden under his mask.
Immediately, Sakura's expression went from battle ready and serious to a pleased smile. "Told you," she singsonged as she walked over to him, and Kakashi let his body sag against a tree where he'd sat down.
"I might have been…a little presumptuous." It was hardly his fault. He'd always been taught that medic-nin weren't fighters but support members.
"You've always been arrogant like that," she teased him and settled next to him. Her hand lit up with green chakra and rested over his ribs. Slowly, the pain began to fade away. Regardless of the quip about his ego, Kakashi couldn't help but stare at her with admiration as she began to speak again. "Their training may take a little longer, but I have no doubt that with the proper training and diligence, we can have a whole sect of medic-nin capable enough to hold their own during missions."
Already, she had finished with his ribs and was moving onto his arm. Even if he generally avoided the hospital and medical attention from anyone other than Rin, he knew that most medic-nin weren't so quick in healing. He'd always known Sakura had incredible chakra control, but this was truly on another level. "Sakura," he drew her attention away from the details of how she'd go about proposing an educational system for medic-nin.
"You've come a long way." Once again, Sakura's face lit up into a smile, and it occurred to Kakashi, that he'd missed her. He'd missed how emotional she was and how he could practically read everything she was feeling through her expressive eyes. He'd missed having his best friend since childhood around. A selfish part of him wished she'd never left. "It's good to have you back."
"It's good to be back. And I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon, so you'd better get used to me sticking around, 'kay?" She finished healing his arm, and patted it, remembering the expression on his face when she'd found him standing at Minato's grave.
She planned on being around for him for a while to come.